A voluntary system to trace livestock movement across state lines has fallen short of expectations, and so the US Department of Agriculture is drafting more stringent regulations.
Federal officials are working on a new system that involves mandatory regulations because they want to make it easier to track diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis in livestock. According to an article in The Billings Gazette, more than 19 million of the nation's 30 million beef cows and 9 million dairy cows crossed state lines in 2009. But, data from 2006 and 2007 show that only about one quarter (28 percent) of the nation's adult cattle had any form of official identification that would allow them to be tracked.
Although this animal disease traceability system is focused on animal health, it can also help promote a safe, healthy food supply. For example, a USDA fact sheet says that:
Before animals are slaughtered, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) conducts a wholesomeness evaluation. If FSIS detects disease, the animal disease traceability system would make the traceback of that animal much more effective and timely than if the animal did not have identification.
If animal disease is found, either at a pre-slaughter inspection or on the farm, animal disease traceability allows animal health officials to better determine what animals may have been exposed to the disease, as well as where they are located. This allows animal health officials to test potentially exposed animals for a disease, while leaving unexposed animals free to move in commerce.
Animal disease traceability will also ensure that the United States can manage zoonotic diseases, which are those diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
For many food safety advocates (and average consumers, too!), this type of traceability system is long overdue as a component of a safe national food supply chain. Throughout the past year, I have posted several times about various food recalls (see here and here, e.g.), and just last week a Modesto meat processor launched a recall of one million pounds of ground beef and bulk ground meat products that may be contaminated with a rare strain of E.coli 017:H7, a potentially deadly bacterium that in this case, has sickened seven people, so far. Improved traceability could help officials better manage these types of recalls, while offering manufacturers improved visibility into their supply chains.