The United States Animal ID Plan

by: J. Amelita Facchiano

Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the United States highlighted the need to have all livestock--including horses--identified and easily traced. While some states have mandatory equine identification programs in place now (such as Louisiana), there are grumblings from some horse owners about "big brother" becoming involved in the horse industry.

The identification program is a long-range plan designed to safeguard and prevent obstruction of livestock movement. It will start with livestock destined for slaughter, such as cattle, sheep, and swine. Having each animal identified will enable the government to trace the animal back to its place of origin in the event of a disease problem.

Neil Hammerschmidt, Animal ID coordinator for the USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)/Veterinary Services, said, "The U.S. Animal ID Plan (USAIP) at this time is not an official program of the USDA. The plan, in its draft form, is being prepared by industry with government collaboration to provide recommendations from the industry to USDA for their consideration as a national ID program is put in place.

The USAIP consists of an industry, state, and federal partnership developed from animal health and ID programs spanning many species groups. The partnership, supported by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA), provides a way to work towards a more coordinated uniform ID plan.

For several decades, more than 100 industry representatives have worked on enhancements for an effective animal ID program. The work was requested by the United States Animal Health Association and facilitated by APHIS for formal presentation in late 2003, at which time it was endorsed as a "work in progress." Full implementation of a national program will take years to achieve.
"The USAIP to date does not include a specific identification plan for equine and several other species," Hammerschmidt said. "Industry species groups have been, or are in the process of being, organized. This includes an Equine Work Group that will evaluate the plan and its benefit to the horse industry, and to determine if the industry could develop options for equine identification that would fit into the USAIP."

The U.S. horse industry is fairly new to understanding the reasons and need for ID methods and trace back, compared to food animal groups who are keenly aware of what animal disease can do to business.

It's important to note that any foreign animal disease outbreak in the U.S. also would affect the horse industry--much like the U.K. horse industry was affected in 2001 by foot and mouth disease (FMD). (While FMD does not infect horses, they can carry the virus mechanically on their bodies. Since horses are likely to be stabled near other livestock, they might pick up the disease on their hair or hooves and introduce the virus to unexposed animals if transported. The virus can also be spread by vehicle tires and on the wind.) In the U.K. FMD outbreak, thousands of horse owners were paralyzed by livestock movement limitations. Also, disease outbreaks such as these often lead to the slaughter of diseased livestock; if an outbreak of a disease that infects horses were to hit the United States, an identification system could help identify epicenters quickly and guide control efforts.

While the USAIP implements its initial food animal and small ruminants phase, the horse industry will be able to offer input on how the USAIP will apply to it. Hammerschmidt explained the Equine Work Group would include members from all sectors of the industry, including individuals experienced in animal identification.

The American Horse Council's National Equine Identification Task Force has agreed to initiate the organization of the working group.

"It is imperative that individuals directly involved in the horse industry provide the leadership on this working group, and that all interested sectors of the horse industry are represented," said Hammerschmidt.

While the cut-off date for comments regarding food animal considerations was Feb. 1, the equine and other industry species groups can continue to submit comments via the USAIP web site, http://usaip.info, and also read the 74-page draft work plan there.

The National Institute of Animal Agriculture will hold ID/INFO EXPO 2004 on May 18-20, 2004, in Chicago, Ill. This event will focus largely on the USAIP. For more information on this event, go to: www.animalagriculture.org