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Livestock

RFID tags could provide bangs tag alternative

Written by Echo Renner

By Echo Renner, WLR Correspondent 

Casper – The United States Animal Health Association (USAHA) is proposing an alternative to the orange metal bangs tags most Wyoming ranchers are familiar with. The proposal calls for official radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and enhanced brucellosis reporting standards.
    USAHA submitted its resolution to USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Veterinary Services calling for an orange RFID tag. The tag would include a two-digit state code and would be attached to a heifer’s ear during vaccination against brucellosis. Such technology would first be tested and introduced on a voluntary and incremental basis.
    Based on the proposal, eartags in the program would be used specifically through USDA’s existing Cooperative State – Federal Brucellosis Eradication Program and distributed in geographic areas at risk for outbreaks, including Wyoming. The Cooperative Program is an official USDA program, with vaccination and tags administered only by accredited veterinarians.
    Bruce Knight, Under Secretary for USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs says the newly proposed electronic tags are another step in being able to trace an animal within 48 hours during a disease outbreak.
    USDA has contracted with three manufacturers to produce 1.5 million RFID eartags compliant with NAIS standards. The combined cost of the contracts is $1.7 million, and the contracting companies are Global Animal Management, Allflex USA Inc. and Digital Angel Corporation. The average cost per unit to USDA bulk purchase of 1.5 million tags was approximately $1.13 per tag. Parallel with this effort, Global Animal Management, Inc. also created three prototype tags specifically for the Brucellosis program, and visited with several state veterinarians to receive feedback on the most acceptable format for the proposed brucellosis tag. (See photo)
    According to Michael Coe, DVM, PhD, Manager of Technical Services at Global Animal Management, such a tag, if made available for use on a voluntary basis, would offer producers and their veterinarians the option of utilizing an RFID tag both for value added program identification in addition to brucellosis vaccination tagging purposes. Over the next four to five years, this could allow for the identification of between 60 and 70 percent of mother cows on ranching operations where brucellosis vaccination is practiced. He says cattle producers, state animal health officials and private veterinarians have voiced support for such a program.
    The idea of the dual-purpose tag originated two years ago with David S. Thain, DVM, then Nevada State Veterinarian. In early 2007, USDA announced they wanted to achieve a convergence of federal disease management programs that combine brucellosis eradication programs with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
    The majority of livestock health officials, brand inspectors and livestock producers are familiar with the “state’s two-digit codes,” and routinely use this information to identify in which state cattle were vaccinated. The proposal suggests each RFID tag will carry that state’s respective two-digit code.
    Upgrades are also proposed for Brucellosis vaccination reporting. Currently, accredited veterinarians fill out the Brucellosis vaccination and tagging paperwork in triplicate, retaining a copy and sending copies to the respective state and federal government. Either the state or USDA then enters the data into the Generic Disease Database, which is managed and maintained by USDA. USDA is developing a hand-held computer reporting system in which tags can be recorded and brucellosis vaccinations reported on-line to a new USDA Disease Database with a wireless Internet connection. This is similar to how tuberculosis eradication efforts are currently reported in some states. Coe says Global Animal Management is working in cooperation with the states to create a computer interface to assist with this effort.
    State veterinarians in eight western states who reviewed the proposal stressed the importance of being able to continue reporting as they currently do, and Coe says the new technology could be a gradual transition.
    Benefits of an RFID approach could include maintenance of state-coded tags and the current vaccination reporting system while enabling a transition over time to electronic systems and automated reporting, increased acceptance of RFID technology by accredited veterinarians. It could also aid in transition from metal eartags to coded RFID tags and increase utilization of electronic identification systems.
    The resolution from USAHA also requests that APHIS subsidize the electronic tags, making them available to producers at a reasonable cost, approximately $.25 - $.50 each.
    Wyoming State Veterinarian, Dr. Walter Cook says, “I am in favor of allowing the use of these tags after testing and trials are complete. As long as the two-digit state codes are included, these tags have the potential of providing all that the current bangs tags provide and more. They should be much easier for producers and veterinarians to read and should ensure better and faster information collection and traceability. Additionally, they should allow the producer more options for collecting their own information than the current metal bangs tags.”
    According to Coe, the proposal will go through USDA’s extensive review process before the program is tested, and USDA has established no timeline for the review. As the Farm Bill could undergo further changes, funding for NAIS may be cut from $30 million a year to around $9 million a year, which could affect this program. Coe, however, says he expects funding to become available, if not through NAIS, through disease program funding from USDA.