Calls for national cattle tracking system follow Michigan’s success

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By Crystal Chen
Capital News Service

Michigan was the first state to implement a mandatory cattle traceability program.

Michigan was prompted in 2007 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis to better track beef and dairy cattle from the farm to the consumer.

All Michigan cattle must be identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags before they are moved. The tags are scanned by readers when they leave a farm or go to a slaughter house. A state database tracks their location.

Cattle tracking should be done nationwide, said Daniel Buskirk, an associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University.

“There are diseases in the live animal that I’d like to be able to track back, things like bovine tuberculosis or foot-and-mouth disease,” Buskirk said. “If it’s found, I want to know what the origin of it is, so that we don’t spread it further and cause losses of livestock.”

Michigan has 1.14 million head of cattle , according to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan cattle and calves cash receipts totaled $529 million in 2016.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently reported that only four states mandate cattle traceback systems. The other three are Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but each of their systems is different. International markets are driving the need for tracking cattle, said Ernie Birchmeier, the livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The association estimates that 61 percent of global beef exports come from countries with effective national traceability systems.

“There are a lot of discussions going on across the United States right now regarding implementation of a national animal ID system,” Birchmeier said.

Livestock traceability was the main topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, he said. “And there was broad consensus from the group that we need to move forward and implement a cattle traceability program in the country.

“There will be distractors, and there will be those who don’t want to follow the program, but the international market ultimately is going to dictate traceability in our cattle industry. Our foreign partners want to know where the animals came from, the type of feeding programs,” Birchmeier said.

If Michigan didn’t have a system, it would be extremely difficult for the state to not only export beef, but also export cattle or market cattle outside the state because of bovine TB, Buskirk said.

“Other states would not be interested in buying cattle from Michigan, so that will ultimately hurt our markets,” he said.

The system allowed the state to resume supplying other states that had barred Michigan cattle when the bovine TB problem started, said Monte Bordner, the owner of Bordner Farms in Sturgis.

Bordner was an early supporter of the program.

It didn’t immediately catch on:  “Change terrifies people,” Bordner said. Some people didn’t want to pay $3 for a each tag.

“Some people don’t want any government involvement in anything.”

According to the national association report, 95 percent of Michigan cattle producers comply  with the tracking program.That, Buskirk said, is “pretty good.”

“Regardless, in my opinion, it’s a fairly small price to pay to have export markets that add more value to our products in the long term,” Buskirk said.

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