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US considers new traceability system

THE need for the US Department of Agriculture's proposed new animal traceability system boils down to the disease investigation of the "Black Cow" for Colorado's state veterinarian.


Dr. Keith Roehr, state veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, was among those recruited by USDA to help salvage remnants of the failed National Animal Identification System and replace it with something simpler and more decentralised.


On Feb. 5, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new concept - run by states and tribes - that he hopes will be met with more acceptance, especially by the cattle industry.


Roehr told an audience at USDA's public meeting in Denver, Colo., last week that the Black Cow tale defines the need. The cow triggered a real-world investigation into a disease with the potential to spread to several western states, according to Roehr, who serves on a USDA working group charged with drafting a framework for a new national traceability rule.


He explained how Colorado authorities were notified of "an animal of interest" - suspected of having bovine tuberculosis (TB) - that was identified during postmortem inspection at an Arizona slaughter plant. The animal had been shipped there from a southeastern Colorado sale barn.


Laboratory tests on the animal's lung lesions started in Arizona. While Colorado veterinary officials waited for results of the cultures, which take four to six weeks, they began trying to determine from where the Black Cow had come and what other animals might be exposed.


"Basically, what we knew about her was that she was a black cow," Roehr reported; she "had no ear tag, and the back tag (from the sale barn) either fell off or wasn't harvested at the slaughter plant."


With no positive identification, the trail went cold, except for the sale barn's records of the group the cow joined after being sold. In that group were cattle from 22 sellers, Roehr said. Further investigations reduced that number to 11 potential sellers of the Black Cow.

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