The Importance of the Health Certificate
Every time I get in my car or truck to go somewhere, I put my seatbelt on. I don’t even think about it. It is just a reflex. Let me assure you it hasn’t always been the case. In fact, when I was fairly young, our family car didn’t even have seatbelts. Nowadays, it is the law we wear our seatbelts. Even if we drive around without wearing our seatbelt and do not get caught, we are still breaking the law. The same goes for having a health certificate when bringing animals into Alabama from another state or taking them to another state from Alabama. If you do not have a health certificate on such occasions, even if no one ever asks to see the document, you are breaking the law.
There is often the perception that if no one ever asks to see a health certificate, what is the use in having one? Well I’m glad you asked that question. Here is at least one good answer: In the absence of any national identification or traceability system, the health certificate serves as a fairly good means of tracing potentially exposed or diseased animals coming into our state.
(At this point I need to veer off the trail for a few sentences. They—whoever they are—have decided a health certificate is not really a health certificate because it doesn’t really certify the health of an animal or animals. It simply indicates the animals have been inspected by an accredited veterinarian and were found to be free of signs of a contagious disease. Therefore, what we have always called a health certificate is really a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection or a CVI as we in government like to call it. We don’t like to use whole words when the initials will do. So if you don’t mind, when I use CVI, you’ll know I’m talking about a health certificate.)
A CVI is a perfect government document. When written, there are the original and three copies … unless your veterinarian uses electronic CVIs which will likely be the trend of the future. In general, the original accompanies the shipment, one copy goes to the state veterinarian in the state of origin, one copy goes to the State Veterinarian in the state of destination and one copy stays with the veterinarian who wrote the certificate. The copy going to the State Veterinarian in the state of destination is probably the most important. That is because it gives us a great deal of information if we need to trace the animal or animals listed on the CVI.
Different states have different requirements concerning the identification to be recorded on the CVI. Animals moving in truckload lots, like a load of steers going to be put on grass in the Midwest or going to a feedlot, may not require individual identification. However, the general description of the lot is given along with the name and address of the recipient of the animals. That is certainly not the ideal way to trace an animal. You may be looking for a black steer exposed to TB. The steer may be traced to a person who buys cattle from the four corners of the universe and puts them on grass. When you narrow it down to the premises based on the CVI, you still may have to sort through a few hundred black steers. Obviously individual identification works best. To come to Alabama or to go to most other states, animals intended to go into the breeding herd are required to have permanent individual identification. That permanent identification may be a unique brand, tattoo, or an electronic tag or microchip readable by a scanner.
A practical example of using the CVI to trace animals came on December 23, 2003. That date, in case you don’t remember, was when it was announced a cow in Washington State had tested positive for BSE. Even though it never became an issue, within 30 minutes of the announcement, we had retrieved all CVIs from Washington State over the past five years and knew where these Washington cattle had shipped to in Alabama. Even if the cattle had moved off the original farm of destination here in Alabama, it would have given us a very good place to start tracing as well as their permanent identification.
There are occasions when CVIs are sloppily written or incomplete. In such cases, we try to alert the veterinarian writing the CVI of the deficiency and remind him or her of their responsibility to be complete and accurate. We will occasionally get a CVI from another state giving the consignee or destination of the shipment as "Rodeo" and the location simply listed as "Alabama." I suppose that would be fine if there were only one rodeo in Alabama. But the last time I checked, they go on all over the state throughout the year. It is extremely important the veterinarian who writes the CVI be very thorough and accurate.
The CVI is a requirement when animals come into the state and it is the responsibility of the shipper or the person transporting the animals to make sure the document accompanies the animals as they are imported into the state. There are certain shows, sales and events requiring a CVI for all animals involved even if they are not crossing state lines. I applaud those individuals who implement that requirement because it will greatly reduce the chances of any of the animals going through the event are spreading contagious diseases.
The CVI will not solve every problem we have when it comes to traceability. It is, however, a tool in our toolbox to be used when needed. We continue to work our way through the obstacles of some sort of a national animal traceability program.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got to fasten my seatbelt and get started toward home.
Dr. Terry Slaten is the Assistant State Veterinarian for Alabama.