December 2010
From the State Vet's Office

Finding Common Ground

I am a member of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the United States Animal Health Association. One group is a little heavy on regulatory and research types. The other balances it out with heavy input from producers.

Back in late August, these two organizations co-hosted a forum on animal traceability. The goal, which was achieved, was to get all sectors involved in the need to trace animal diseases.

The thinking was to get representatives from the livestock industry as well as state and federal government animal health officials in one place and try to find some common ground on animal disease traceability to build on. Most producers, no matter how much they opposed animal identification, agree there is a need to be able to trace animal diseases.

It’s no different than with human diseases. Wouldn’t you want to know if the person who is sitting next to you at the ballgame has TB? The ability to trace disease not only allows for earlier testing and diagnosing of those who have been exposed to a disease, it also affords the ability to separate those who could spread the disease to folks like you or me or your grandkids.

Thus, the realization that there is a need became the common ground to develop some method to trace animal diseases. Back in February, USDA came up with some components to build upon. Those components were very fundamental. They included: 1) only involve animals moving interstate, 2) traceability be administered by states and tribes, 3) encourage the use of low-cost technology and 4) implement the program transparently through federal regulations and full rulemaking process.

Basically, with some add-ons, we will build on things like the interstate health certificate which already exists. Health certificates have always required components allowing us to trace the animal back to the farm of origin and to the place of destination. The process has worked well, but does need some tightening so we do not have anything fall through the cracks.

As the meeting progressed, several points of consensus were reached. The first was the need for a better animal disease traceability system in the United States. The other points of consensus pretty much put flesh on the USDA’s component framework previously mentioned. Interestingly, nothing was even close to earth shattering.

There were points like allowing the use of methods of identification which already exist like the use of brands. I will say that mostly applies to states we refer to as "brand states." In Alabama, we do have specific brands registered to certain farms, but it doesn’t go much further. In brand states, there are laws requiring branding before shipment from the farm or ranch. Brand inspectors confirm the brands to be correct and verify movement.

There is also the allowance for the use of the metal ear tags we have used for years (decades) in brucellosis and TB testing, and calfhood brucellosis vaccination. However, we continue to encourage the use of the electronic ear tags because of their accuracy and efficiency of time to read and record information.

The group also agreed concise and accurate outreach and education programs for animal producers, handlers, marketers and processors be the top priority (no kidding) regarding the new framework of Animal Disease Traceability. I did not come up with this bit of wisdom, but would be glad to take credit for it: keep the people informed.

I have believed, for a long time, if you don’t give people concise and accurate information about what involves them, they will make something up. That doesn’t mean people make stuff up maliciously. It is just they will take whatever information they get and try to connect the dots, which usually ends up wrong and hampers the ability to get things done.

I can tell you for certain that as the USDA informs me about the progress, unfolding and regulations regarding Animal Disease Traceability, I will keep you informed. In fact, there is a target of April 2011 for a rule to be published and you will be allowed to comment on it for 60-90 days before the rule is made final.

I will keep you in the loop on that issue. Some people seem to think, no matter what their comment is, the USDA is not going to listen. That may be true, but I would think there is better than a 50/50 chance the USDA has its antenna up and listening on this.

This is a necessary program and it will impact the livestock industry long after I am no longer writing this column. The same can be said of the brucellosis program, the screw worm eradication program and many other programs that were joint ventures between the regulators and the regulated.

As a regulator, one of my top priorities is to oversee the health, through regulations, of the state’s flocks and herds. I will ultimately be held accountable if there is a disease that sweeps through our livestock and poultry—especially if there was one more thing I could have done, but didn’t.

An incident from a few years ago still haunts me a little. I was on the shuttle from the airport to a meeting with several other people on the van. I looked across the aisle and said, "Hello, I’m Tony Frazier," and stuck out my hand. The other person reciprocated with the handshake and said, "My name is and I used to be state veterinarian in . I got fired."

I hope I never have to introduce myself that way—not that I would even if that were the case. It is certainly not my job security that concerns me when I bring up animal disease traceability.

Every tool I can have in my toolbox that helps us to stop the spread of animal disease in this state will help everyone, even the consumer who thinks milk is manufactured at the grocery store and hamburger comes from McDonald’s.

I say we take the common ground and build on it. It sure beats taking our differences and going to battle because someone always loses when that happens.