Extension Ag Update
May/June 2003
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Livestock Identification: What For?

Dr. Gavin Meerdink, Beef and Feed Safety Extension Veterinarian, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, meerdink@uiuc.edu

The identification of livestock has taken many forms and has been the subject of a standing committee of the U.S. Animal Health Association for most of the last century. Canada has had a mandatory identification system for livestock in place for two years. COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling), which requires animal identification, has been mandated by law but has not been funded.

The recent case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detection in Alberta underlined the need for the ability to trace the origins of individual animals. Thus far, the cost has been considered too onerous for implementation. Producers are wary of regulatory intrusion. How and when will a national livestock identification system be implemented?

Homeland security and foreign animal disease threats may influence the ID issue for regulatory reasons. However, identification, particularly electronic ID, is gaining acceptance and being implemented for economic reasons. With the ease of recording an electronic ID at the packing plant with links to carcass quality data, cattle feeders can better manage nutritional and other management practices to improve efficiency. Also, buyers can better determine whose cattle provided the best return for the investment. The cow/calf producer learns how the offspring of the breeding herd have fared in the commercial world and make adjustments for improvement.

The day is near when electronic ID will be required for serious consideration by feeder market animal buyers and the animal source history will determine the animal's worth.