The 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom made a lasting impression on American livestock producers and agricultural leaders alike.

One key lesson learned by American agriculture, says a veterinarian with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is the importance of traceability to slow disease spread.

Dr. Soren Rodning, Extensionveterinarian, says managing the outbreak was difficult for several reasons.

“One of the biggest challenges they faced in dealing with the disease outbreak was the difficulty in tracking animal movements,” says Rodning. “The quicker you can identify animals that may have been exposed to the disease, the more rapidly you can begin to effectively manage the outbreak.”

He says a new program managed by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries addresses that problem by improving the ability to track animal movements in the state if there is a disease outbreak.

“The Animal Disease Traceability Rule became effective at the first of the year,” says Rodning. “Cattle more than 18 months of age must have an official identification number when ownership changes.”

State veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier says improved tracking of animal movements is a critical element of effective rapid response to disease outbreaks.

“Rapid response systems minimize economic impact when diseases enter this country and disrupt the movement of livestock,” says Frazier. “This rule will help rapidly trace animals in the event of a potential livestock disease outbreak.”

The rule covers most livestock, but Frazier says it is the regulations for cattle and bison older than 18 months that is attracting the most attention.

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“As far as horses, swine, goats, sheep and feeder cattle, traceability will not be different from the requirements in place today addressing interstate travel and the requirement for a certificate of veterinary inspection (health certificate),” he says.

“Sheep and goats already have requirements to be identified for the National Scrapie Program.”

The official identification number is a unique number assigned to the animal.

Rodning and Frazier note that there are several types of approved official ID for cattle. It can be the original Brucellosis silver metal ear tag or the Brucellosis vaccination orange metal ear tag for heifers. The silver metal ear tags are available for free from the state vet's office. The orange metal ear tags are used by private veterinarians when they vaccinate heifers for Brucellosis.

Producers can also choose to purchase electronic identification (EID) tags through approved distributors.

Both men agree the program at its core is about protecting Alabama agriculture.

“It is going to reduce risks to producers if there is a disease outbreak,” Rodning says. “It will help the livestock industry respond more rapidly to control the outbreak.”

Frazier adds that the export market will see the program as an added benefit.

“Our new program shows our export markets that we have a traceability system,” Frazier says.

“If we had a disease outbreak, even the old-time diseases, we can respond and do our job without the ID system, but it will take us longer to do the epidemiology. With traceability, we can do that faster, meaning we can recover faster. That means producers are back in business faster. That ultimately means a secure food supply.”

For more information about the rules or on how to obtain cattle identification tags, contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at 334-240-7253 or at stvet@agi.alabama.gov.

In addition, goat producers are affected by a new rule passed by the Alabama Department of Agriculture. The new rule now requires all goats and sheep to be identified with official Scrapie ID before change of ownership or transport to fairs, exhibitions or across state lines. The previous version of the rule only required official ID of all sheep.  

Efforts are under way to educate goat owners and producers about the rule change, which went into effect on Jan. Goat producers can pick up Scrapie brochures and tag order forms at most stockyards and feed stores throughout Alabama. Producers can also call 866-USDA-TAG to request the brochure and tag order form. 

It takes approximately 3 to 4 weeks for producers to receive tags after the tag request is received. Registered goats that are identified with a legible registry assigned tattoo and are accompanied by a copy of their registration papers do not have to have a Scrapie tag installed. 

In some cases, microchips are acceptable as official Scrapie identification.