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Livestock Must Be Tagged in USDA Plan to Trace Mad Cow Disease

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Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Most livestock moved across state lines will have to be identified and tracked under a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that aims to rapidly trace diseased animals to their origin.

Cattle and other animals covered by the regulation will have to be identified by ear marks, tattoos or brands and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection when moved from state to state, the USDA said today in a statement. The tracing will assist investigators who need to quickly discover the origins of cattle with mad cow disease or other ailments along with their herd mates, the USDA said.

“Over the past several years, USDA has listened carefully to America’s farmers and ranchers, working collaboratively to establish a system of tools and safeguards that will help us target when and where animal diseases occur, and help us respond quickly,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

A nationwide animal tracing system has been promised since 2003 by the USDA, following the discovery of the country’s first case of mad cow disease, which may lead to dementia and death in humans who eat contaminated meat. The disclosure in April of the first case of mad cow disease in six years -- from a 10-year-old dairy animal in California -- spurred debate about whether to expand tracking of older cattle.

The USDA said the rule will cost the cattle industry $14.5 million to $34.3 million annually, “assuming official identification will be undertaken separately from other routine management practices.” Department Spokesman Matthew Herrick said the agency has set aside $14 million to implement the plan.

Rule Benefits

The USDA said the benefits of the rule, in increased efficiencies in tracing disease outbreaks, are expected to exceed the costs.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it was “encouraged” by the rule, which will go into effect 60 days after being placed in the Federal Register.

“The health and well-being of cattle has long been a top priority for cattlemen and women,” said Kathy Simmons, chief veterinarian for the industry group. “NCBA remains supportive of an animal disease traceability program for cattle health purposes.”

The rule requires identification of livestock moved between states, with guidelines tailored to different species. It would be put in place gradually, applying first to older animals in the U.S. cattle herd, which numbered about 90.8 million at the start of 2012. The U.S. livestock industry is valued at more than $70 billion a year.

Sick Animals

The new rule is “going to help us move quickly to identify where diseased and sick animals are,” Vilsack said.

Brands and tattoos are acceptable as identification if agreed to by the states or Native American tribes involved, the USDA said in an e-mailed statement.

Of the world’s eight largest beef exporters, only the U.S and India don’t have mandatory national ID and tracing systems, according to researchers for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

While the rule applies to cattle, bison, goats and other livestock, it is focused on the beef and dairy cattle industry, the USDA said.

Most beef cattle under 18 months are exempt, as are chicks moved interstate from a hatchery.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at

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