Veterinarians see varied impacts of animal disease traceability rule statewide
Nearly one year after USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service debuted their Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) Rule, Wyoming veterinarians grapple with the task of compliance.
Veterinarians from around the state of Wyoming have various opinions on the rule, but most agree that it is important for accountability within the livestock industry.
“To me, this rule makes a lot of sense,” comments Casper veterinarian Don Cobb, who has been practicing veterinary medicine for 48 years. “Personally, I think this rule is long overdue from an accountability standpoint.”
Don Tolman, long-time Powell veterinarian, adds, “Disease traceability is good because we can isolate an outbreak of a specific disease, pinpoint a source and take care of it rapidly.”
While veterinarians agree that traceability is a good idea, they disagree on the best way to fund such an effort.
Producers around the state also have varied opinions that veterinarians are forced to contend with, comment both Cobb and Gould, and veterinarians see lack of knowledge about ADT in general.
“Producers have one of two attitudes about ADT,” says Cobb. “They either say, ‘This is the rule, and we have to comply,’ or ‘To hell with this rule.’”
Those who comply with the rule take on the additional costs of identifying livestock, while Cobb says that those who take the latter attitude choose to simply ignore it.
“We have some producers who are just not going to comply with the rule, and there is a lack of enforcement,” Cobb comments.
“Our enforcement teams don’t seem to be too upset about the rule,” he says, noting that he has anecdotal evidence of loads of cattle being transported between states without identification.
“If we have a rule that is being ignored, it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense,” Cobb adds. “How are we going to enforce this?”
Meeteetse veterinarian Bill Gould’s largest concern is the lack of producer education.
“This rule has increased our workload with producers shipping cattle interstate,” he said. “We have to individually ID cattle, and that takes a lot of time.”
He adds, “The producer is not well-informed and doesn’t understand what we have to put on the health certificate.”
Gould suggests continued informational meetings to increase producer awareness.
The source of funding to implement the rule creates contention in the veterinary community.
“When Wyoming was considering using federal money to buy equipment to put into the ADT rule, I was concerned,” Tolman says. “My position is that Wyoming would be better off to fund the effort ourselves and control it ourselves, rather than have folks in Washington, D.C., who don’t understand us and our problems, control it.”
He continues that money talks and has influence over management, citing management of wildlife species – like wolves and grizzly bears – as an area where Wyoming could do a better job than the federal government.
“We’ve managed our money well in Wyoming, and we can afford to take care of it,” Tolman comments. “I don’t think we need to sell our souls to bigger government, which tends to be more corrupt.”
On the other side, Cobb notes, “When our Wyoming Livestock Board turned down the government grant, what they did was to put the responsibility on the sale barns.”
Cobb continues that economically, it makes sense for the livestock industry to stand behind ADT.
“If we look at our export partners, their objections are the lack of accountability and traceability of our livestock,” he explains. “Is this going to come back and haunt us? Are we going to be able to maintain our export market strength without traceability?”
In Cobb’s perfect world, high frequency radio frequency identification tags (RFID) and electronic readers would be used to identify cattle.
However, the equipment costs are expensive, and without readers, RFID tags are useless.
Gould echoes Cobb, saying, “Electronic identification and the ability to read those IDs with electronic equipment is the way to go.”
He adds, however, that the technology has not been perfected, and there is work to do.
“Electronic identification is the best, if we’ve got the equipment to read them,” Gould says. “Right now, we don’t have that capability.”
Tolman, however, emphasizes that brands remain effective for cattle identification, as well.
“Wyoming identification of cattle has been by a brand on the hide,” he says. “People in bigger cities think that putting an ear tag in, using a computer and doing things electronically is the solution. They don’t realize that when cattle get out in the hills, they lose tags. They don’t lose a brand.”
Regardless of the method, he realizes the importance of identification for animals.
“If we have an outbreak of disease, it is important that we have a system that is efficient, fast, economical and operated by our people who understand our issues,” Tolman adds.
“The biggest consideration we have is to get producers on board with this effort,” says Cobb.
With the positive effects that would result from identification, particularly those economic considerations, Cobb says the benefits are present.
“There are a big percentage of producers who are going to grumble and not really want to comply with the ADT rule, but they are going to because that is what is right,” Cobb says. “Then we will have a percentage who will totally ignore the rule. Those are the producers we need to concentrate on.”
Without a concentrated effort by the entire livestock industry, Cobb fears the rule will never be enforced properly and the benefits won’t be seen.
“Consumers are driving this effort in the background,” he says. “This is being driven by consumer, and not well accepted by the industry because the industry doesn’t understand it.”
This is part two of a four-part series. Look for the next segment focusing on producer’s opinions.
Animal disease traceability, while a good idea, says 48-year Casper veterinarian Don Cobb, was introduced to producers in such a way that created immediate pushback.
“When USDA came out with this rule several years ago, they said it was going to be mandatory,” he explains. “Immediately, producers were on the defensive.”
Cobb says that USDA didn’t clarify how the rule was going to be applied, what it would cost or where the information would be housed, only saying that identification would be mandatory.
“Producers have been on the defensive about it ever since,” says Cobb. “If we had this rule in place when we had one single case of BSE, or mad cow, in 2003, we would have never seen the effects on the market that we saw. We would have been able to trace its herd mates quickly.”
Looking forward, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has indicated an increased level of mandatory identification moving into the future but what and when is still up in the air.
“We can’t tell what APHIS is going to do because they change their minds,” 41-year Meeteetse veterinarian Bill Gould comments. “APHIS has said they will include steers in the future, as well, so it will be a lot more work.”