The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced contracts with three manufacturers to produce 1.5 million radio frequency identification ear tags that are compliant with National Animal Identification System standards.

The combined cost of the contracts is $1.7 million. The ear tags will be used specifically for USDA state-federal cooperative disease control and eradication efforts, such as bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis and will be distributed in geographic areas which are determined to be of increased risk for disease outbreak or spread.

"Today's announcement marks another step in our efforts to reach our long-term goal to trace an animal within 48 hours during a disease outbreak," said Bruce Knight, under secretary for USDA's marketing and regulatory programs. "Production and distribution of these National Animal Identification System compliant tags for existing program and disease uses will make it easier for state and federal officials to trace production animals to their source in the event of a disease outbreak or animal health emergency."

The ear tags will use radio frequency identification device technology, which will allow producers and animal health officials to electronically identify and store information contained on a tag that is attached to an animal. This will greatly increase the efficiency of an animal disease investigation that involves tracing of exposed and potentially infected animals. The radio frequency identification technology also increases the accuracy of information collected from the tags attached to animals of interest.

Three manufacturers are under contract to produce the radio frequency identification ear tags: Allflex USA Inc., Dallas Ft. Worth Airport, Texas; Digital Angel Corp., South St. Paul, Minn.; and Global Animal Management, Summit, N.J. The average cost per unit to USDA for the bulk purchase is approximately $1.13 per tag.

The National Animal Identification System consists of three components: premises registration, animal identification and tracing. The premises registration component of the system ensures the availability of a nationwide communications network to assist livestock owners and animal health officials in the event of an animal disease event. More than 420,000 premises nationwide have been registered to date.