Farm & Ranch Guide
Livestock producers encouraged to use 'go slow' approach in electronic ID program
By DALE HILDEBRANT For Lee Agri-Media
Livestock producers need to take time and exercise caution before committing to an electronic ID program. That’s the advice of Wade Moser, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA).
Moser, who is a member of the U.S. Animal Identification Program’s Bovine Working Group, said some companies are now trying to market systems to farmers and ranchers saying they meet the needs of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), even though the final details of the ID program haven’t been totally worked out, and the systems may not deliver what the companies are promising.
“We’re getting some of these companies out there who are offering products that are basically a mirror image of the CHAPS program,” he said. “They are saying we are going to keep track of this data, we can source verify for you and all of these other things. Basically it amounts to you give them all of the information and they just put it in a computer. And, of course you pay three-and-a-half bucks for the tag.
“It’s getting to be more of a salesman’s deal, and producers are thinking ‘well this will qualify for the animal ID and we can tie in’. But, I would be a little cautious about getting too far out front, because things may not happen like they are promising,” he added.
Moser claims there is no rapidly approaching deadline for getting an ID program in place. In fact, it’s only a voluntary program at this time just to get a premise ID number. Overall, the ID program is running late when based on the initial timeline that was established by USDA, with the basic reason being there are so many unknowns in the process. In addition, the method of funding the program has recently been revised.
According to Moser, the President's budget announcement in December contained slightly over $33 million for the NAIS funding, but language was inserted in the budget that prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from implementing the program until the details on various components of the ID system are spelled out to House and Senate committees working on the animal ID issue. Which means this initial funding won’t be used for developing the ID components, but rather spent on implementing the structure, once the system is designed.
“This means that funding money will sit there until they can really explain here’s our money and this is what we want to spend for and this is the results of the funding,” Moser noted. “And this new funding approach isn’t all bad. I think that, to some degree, this was going to be a deal where bureaucracies were coming in to all the states and putting together a grant proposal saying we’ll do this. Potentially we may have 20 different systems out there being designed, not knowing which one will work. I think the administration is telling USDA ‘we’re not willing to spend $30 to $50 million every year to continually test this – where are we headed, what are we doing’? And those are the same questions we’ve asked all along, so that might be a positive move. They’re going to have to start answering some of these questions before they start throwing more money out there.”
Kris Ringwall, a beef specialist at the Dickinson (N.D.) Research Extension Center, also claims the beef industry is not ready for the implementation of a uniform, nationally recognizable numbering system for individual animals yet. In his regular “Beef Talk” column, Ringwall cites a concern over the complexity of sorting through the numerous commercial entities involved in the electronic ID game and the careless and casual use of the term “ISO”.
ISO is an abbreviation for International Organization of Standardization, which is an international organization that establishes uniform performance and operating standards for thousands of items, and Ringwall notes that not all electronic ID tags are ISO compliant.
He has noticed situations already where ISO-compliant electronic ID tags have been removed after moving the animals to another premise, and a replacement tag inserted that meet the needs of an individual user, more commonly called a closed system.
An additional area of concern for Ringwall is the lack of a defined acceptable level for transponder performance. Even if the electronic ID tag is ISO compliant, there is no guarantee the tags can be read with any level of reliability.
Ringwall also points out the need for education if this process is to succeed, especially in the area of intentionally removing electronic ID tags. He cited the historical practice of removing all ear tags to give a lot of cattle the impression of uniformity at resale is common in backgrounded calves.
In conclusion, both Moser and Ringwall agree many issues remain to be resolved in the NAIS before a uniform, reliable system is in place.
Until that time, producers should be hesitant to jump on the electronic ID bandwagon, thinking they have solved their verified source requirement. Instead, the current process of using visual ear tags coupled with paper or computer records will continue to serve the livestock producer well until refinements are made to the new electronic ID program.