December 22 was the cattle industry's 9/11 said Dr. Joe Paschal, Livestock Specialist at the Second Survival Strategies Conference for Farmers and Ranchers held recently in Weslaco, Texas.

As every rancher knows, on December 22nd, 2003, the first case of BSE, or mad cow disease, was discovered in the United States on a farm in Washington State. Very quickly Japan, Mexico, South Korea and dozens of other countries banned U.S. beef, shutting off export markets worth more than $3 billion. Beef prices went down from $95 per hundredweight to $72 to $75 per hundredweight.

Newspaper reports regularly indicate that a few more cattle have been found from the Canadian herd of 81 that at one time included the infected cow. It is possible that all 81 will not be found, said Paschal.

With the unfortunate discovery of the infected Holstein, an animal identification plan (USAIP), which had been in the planning stages for some time, suddenly “jumped up on the radar screen,” said Paschal. This type of identification and tracking program used throughout the livestock marketing chain would be an effective means to locate infected cows quickly.

The idea of an identification program didn't start with BSE but with foot and mouth disease in Great Britain about three years ago. It includes tracing an infectious disease very quickly so that strategies may be implemented immediately.

Paschal assured the ranchers that USAIP is part of the National Animal Health Program and its purpose is not for the government to know how many head of cattle a rancher has, but to have a 48-hour trace-back of all types of livestock.

“This is a lot better than wiping out every animal in a 75-mile radius, even if they are not infected.”

To control any disease threat, the government needs a system that can identify individual animals or groups, the premises where they are located and the date of entry to those premises. USAIP recommends that Premise ID be in place in all states by this coming summer. It recommends that individual or group/lot numbers be available for issuing by February, 2005, and that all cattle, swine and small ruminants possess individual or group/lot identification for interstate movement by July, 2005, and all animals of the remaining species be in similar compliance by July, 2006. State-of-the-art technologies, such as a GPS system, will help in the process.

“Whether you like it or not, it's going to happen,” said Paschal.

The government has taken many precautions in recent years to assure that the U.S. meat supply is safe. Downer cows, those that have a calcium deficiency after freshening and are unable to stand, are now banned from the marketplace.

Precautions are being taken with cattle feed: ruminant material, such as meat and bone meal, though containing many nutrients, is no longer being fed to ruminants, preventing infection through feed contamination. Specified risk material, such as spinal cords, is now removed from carcasses prior to processing. Since BSE is a disease seen in older animals, the brains from cattle over 30 months of age cannot be used. Although testing for BSE began in 1989, the USDA is doubling the number being tested yearly to 40,000 head.

Paschal says the discovery of BSE in the United States has hurt but not crippled the cattle industry. “We need Japan and Mexico to open its doors again to U.S. beef,” he said. “We got rid of foot and mouth and screw worm. I have a lot of faith in what we can do.”

Cutline:

AN IDENTIFICATION program should be in place in the near future that would track an animal throughout the livestock marketing chain.