The recent events that have raised concern over the safety of the American food supply have led many to ask where the food in grocery stores originates. Beef is one of the major food products grown, raised, and processed in the United States. Reports in recent years of animal mistreatment and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003 have focused many people on the need for tracing the source of beef products. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) along with Congress has developed a set of procedures to trace animal origins. This includes the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). This paper will compare multiple sources that relate to the topic of traceability in the beef cattle production industry and how they relate to the NAIS and COOL programs.
In “Economic Benefits of Animal Tracing in the Cattle Production Sector” and “Post-slaughter Traceability” Levan Elbakidze and G.C. Smith et al., respectively, explain the need for traceability in the beef industry. Elbakidze focuses on the benefits of a tracking system in the cattle production sector while Smith et al. focus on the need for such a system in the post-slaughter sector. Both identify the aspects needed for a functional system as benefiting and motivating producer and processor participation.
Elbakidze identifies four motives for producers to establish an animal identification and tracking system “First, traceability could be used to prevent theft or loss. Second, enhanced record keeping would facilitate the identification of animals with superior genetics in terms of their productivity. Third, certain traceability systems could make it possible for credence attributes to become observable. Fourth, traceability would allow for tracking and identifying potentially unhealthy animals; thereby enhancing efficiency of control and eradication of livestock diseases” (170-1).
As Elbakidze focuses on the implementation of a traceability program, he finds that the benefits would come from “minimizing expected losses to cattle producers from a potential animal disease outbreak” (172). He also recognizes that the efficiency of implementation would rely on four factors: “the likelihood of disease introduction, disease spread rate, effectiveness of a program, and costs and effectiveness of any alternative mitigation options.” Elbakidze identifies the “merit of the NAIS [as one that allows] for the timely tracking of the diagnosed and exposed animal to their origins” (171).
Smith et al. present similar motives for animal identification, adding that an effective system must be efficient, economical, come with easy verification, and are accurate, precise, repeatable, cost-effective, and have a high read rate (67). Smith et al. acknowledge that tracing post slaughter in small packinghouses is obtainable, but will be much more difficult in larger packinghouses, due to the high volume of these houses, without the use of DNA-fingerprinting (73). At the same time Smith et al. recognize that DNA-fingerprinting cannot be used to identify cattle as “organic, natural, grass-fed, or hormone and antibiotic-free…or identify sources of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)” (68).
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a form of technology referred to when discussing animal tracing. Dennis E. Brown addresses this in a section of his book, “RFID Implementation,” as do Edmund W. Schuster, Stuart J. Allen, and David L. Brock in their book, “Global RFID.” Brown and Schuster, Allen, and Brock approach RFID as a sensible technology to use in animal tracing.
Brown identifies the aspects of the NAIS program that would benefit from the use of RIFD; including the use of an Animal Identification Number (AIN) that will associate an individual animal with any premises it has been on through a Premise Identification Number (PIN) (160). Brown explains the role RFID can have in AIN and PIN identification and mentions the obstacle of cost of implementation. He states, “The USDA has indicated that they will not pay for the tagging or the database, and producers are concerned that consumers will resist this increase in their costs” (161).
Schuster, Allen, and Brock take a different approach to the application of RIFD technology to animal tracking by distinguishing the positive functions of food traceability for different groups. “Food traceability [benefits include] identification of the origin of contaminated food (public safety), the limitation of liability in the event of disease outbreak (business), and information about inferred physical quality characteristics (consumers)” (120). Schuster, Allen, and Brock use an example of technology that includes placing an RFID chip subcutaneously in animals to trace “origin, location, and health status of animals” (124). Also mentioned is the Verified Electronically ID Source and Age Program (VESA); recommended by Northern Livestock Video of Montana. This system requires little investment by the producer and is relatively easy to implement into the cattle herd (124-5).
The development of electronic identification for cattle is becoming a large part of animal traceability and there are several scientists studying the development of ruminal transponders. C. Antonini et al. and G. Caja et al. are investigating the use of electronic transponders as a means of animal traceability. Both groups agree that electronic transponders encased in a ruminal bolus are effective ways of tracking animal identification (Caja 60; Antonini 3136-7). The effect on animal digestion and overall performance was the central focus of each study, but each had a separate focus as well.
Caja et al. evaluated the effect the size of the ruminal bolus has on retention rates, as well as performance effects in animals. Caja et al. cites “the low tenure of the bolus in the fore-stomachs of the ruminants” as the cause of the bolus receiving little attention as a carrier for electronic transponders (46). Through the tests conducted that the retention rates of boluses carrying the transponders is greater than 98.8 percent. There were no significant effects on the reproductive or overall performance on animals in the test (60-61). The difference between the two tests is that Caja et al. focused on the proportionate size of the bolus in comparison to the size of the animal’s reticulum and rumen.
Antonini et al. also studied the use of ruminal boluses equipped with ruminal transponders, but the focus of their study was the long-term effects on “health and performance of cattle over a two year period, patterns of reticulorumenal motility, and in vitro growth and metabolism of bacterial populations” in the rumen. In this study, only one size of bolus was used, in comparison to the study of Caja et al (3134). Antonini et al. found that the bolus had no effect on milk yield, milk fat and protein yields, or reproductive traits. There was an increase in conception rates in the treated cows (3136). Body weight of bulls and mortality were unaffected, but there was a “lower number of chewing movements” and a “greater frequency of regurgitations.” For the most part the boluses were retrieved from the reticulum of the cattle postmortem. Antonini et al. did find that there were select instances where the boluses had left “clear marks [on] the reticulum mucosa.” In vivo studies showed that there were “greater bacterial concentrations” and propionic and butyrate acid proportions increased with prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields (3137). Antonini et al. conclude that the ruminal bolus did not have an overall effect of performance and reproductive traits, but changes in rumen behavior and bacterial growth did occur. Antonini et al. do acknowledge that it is not known if the changes in bacterial growth would occur under normal pasture conditions, seeing that the test included extremely prolonged periods under electromagnetic conditions (3141).
M. Klindtworth et al. are also in the research field of electronic transponders. In their study “Electronic Identification of Cattle with Injectable Transponders,” Klindtworth et al. surveyed recent studies to find the most suitable injection site for electronic transponders. There are several considerations when selecting an injection site: “the injection procedure, the risk of damaging essential organs, mechanical load on the transponder inside the animal, use for process automation, loss and failure rate, and removal in the slaughterline.” There have been previous studies testing injection sites around the anus, but many have found that transponders could not be recovered at the time of slaughter. Studies have also tested areas around the kneefold, armpit, forehead, and face, but all have shown complications with breaking, loss, or difficulty of recovery (66). Klindtworth et al. concludes that the optimal injection site is the scutulum tissue on cranial side of the ear; specifically the corpus adiposum auriculare. This “combination of fat and cartilage provides a secure mechanical protection of the transponder” (67). Klindtworth outlines implanting steps and gives various examples of instruments available for ear implanting (69-71).
Several factors determine the readability of a transponder including the kind of transponder, antenna quality and size, strength of the electromagnetic field, positioning and orientation, and external noise. Klindtworth et al. suggest that transponders should be readable at 30-80 cm with proper injection and position and failure rates can be limited to less than one percent (78).
Antonini, C.M. et al. “In Vivo Mechanical and In Vitro Electromagnetic Side-effects of a Ruminal Transponder in Cattle.” Journal of Animal Science 84 (2006): 3133-42. Print.
Brown, Dennis E. RFID Implementation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.
Caja, G. et al. “Development of a Ceramic Bolus for the Permanent Electronic Identification of Sheep, Goat and Cattle.” Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 24 (1999): 45-63. Print.
Elbakidze, Levan. “Economic Benefits of Animal Tracing in the Cattle Production Sector.” Journal of Agriculture and Resource Economics 32.1 (2007): 169-80. Print.
Klindtworth, M. et al. “Electronic Identification of Cattle with Injectable Transponders.” Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 24 (1999): 65-79. Print.
Schuster, Edmund W., Stuart J. Allen, and David L. Brock. Global RFID: The Value of the EPCglobal Network for Supply Chain Management. New York: Springer, 2007. Print.
Smith, G.C. et al. “Post-slaughter Traceability.” Meat Science 80 (2008): 66-74. Print.