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USDA Rolls Out Traceability Rule

After more than two years and poring over 1,600-plus comments, USDA releases new flexible standards to help track animals.

The world is looking for a cookie cutter approach to animal identification and traceability, but the USDA and livestock industry partners are heading in another direction, which they believe will meet traceability needs while reducing costly impact on producers. On Thursday, USDA announced its final rule establishing general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate.

During a press briefing, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, explained that the agency was aiming for a "new flexible framework for animal traceability." He notes that the new rules will allow "states and tribes to develop systems that work best for them and address gaps in any tracking efforts."

Essentially, livestock producers will be able to use long-standing identification tools including tattoos and brands to identify cattle, and paperwork can be simplified too. If a state will accept specific paperwork on an animal - not necessarily the Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection - that is accepted under these new rules.

Here's a rundown of what the new rules include:

* Accepting brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by the shipping and receiving states or tribes.

* Permanently maintaining the use of backtags as an alternative to official eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter.

* Accepting movement documentation other than an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving states or tribes.

* Clarifying that all livestock moved interstate to custom slaughter facility are exempt from the regulations.

* Exempting chicks moved interstate from a hatchery from official identification requirements.

In addition, beef under 18 months of age, unless moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos or recreational events are exempt from the official identification requirement. However, specific traceability requirements for this group of cattle are going to be addressed in separate rulemaking.

Vilsack says the new rules do allow for flexibility in documentation and identification for interstate commerce. But adds the new rules do "not require all livestock to be identified, only those moving interstate." He also notes the rules do not dictate the format for recordkeeping or a specific type of tag.

"This is different from what we proposed but we listened," he notes. And USDA officials went through more than 1,600 comments on the proposed rule and Vilsack says each of the rules was taken into consideration.

This new traceability rule will help track animals in case of a disease outbreak without creating a new more cumbersome recordkeeping system on top of what many producers already use for interstate commerce.

Globally, trade partners have been calling on the United States to implement tougher animal traceability rules - a push that started about nine years ago at this time with the discovery of the first U.S. cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. When asked if the new rule will meet global trade partners' requirements, Vilsack says: "We had the case of atypical BSE and we had a quick, focused and appropriate response. [Trading partners] remain confident in our capacities. This traceability rule adds greater depth."

He notes with this new rule officials should be able to respond more quickly in the case of an outbreak to track diseased animals. And its flexible design allows makes it easier for all cattle producers to use it.

The rule will be published Dec. 28 in the Federal Register. You can check out a USDA Fact Sheet on traceability online.

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