National Animal Identification System

Posted: April 8, 2005

The National Animal Identification System is a program intended to identify and track animals as they move, commingle, or enter venues of commerce. The system is being designed for all animals that would benefit from rapid trace-backs in the event of a disease or food safety concern. At this time, ID systems are not consistent nor always transferable across state lines. Tracing animal movements is very time and labor intensive, and therefore often very incomplete. Currently identification systems are being developed for cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas, and alpacas.

The Farm Animal Identification and Records (FAIR) were begun in 1998 as an initial attempt to develop a national system. Initiated by National Holstein, in part it incorporated a visible, unique lifetime ID with an electronic option. In 2004 the United States Department of Agriculture announced the implementation of a national animal ID system. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is the current national program. Some major objectives are to develop a system that will uniquely identify many species of animals with a lifetime ID that contributes to trace back of product and animals within a 48 hour period.

Much of the effort is being driven by the biosecurity and agrisecurity issues related to the need to find and track infected (subclinical) animals quickly. Several simulations have presented the need for rapid identification and a means to trace animal movement as the most important weaknesses necessary in efforts to control an important or introduced infectious disease in animal populations. The sooner animal health officials can identify exposed animals and premises the more quickly foreign or domestic animal disease programs can be instituted for containment. Recent examples in avian influenza have demonstrated that the cost benefits for rapid control can be in the range of $100’s of million for rapid control vs. delayed control.

Visible systems have been in place since the 1940’s and remain the backbone of ID systems. Currently ~ 50% of animals have some sort of ID system. In most cases these are individual animal tagging systems that require the animal to be captured to be read, include paper records with hand input, and are varied in security and transferability. Conversely in many European countries upwards of 95% of livestock are incorporated in some type of an ID system. Most of these systems have market traceability from product to individual animal or farm. Such a system in the US will enhance product acceptability and be very important to limit animal suffering and economic damage in any widespread disease outbreak. Therefore transforming the current US system remains a high priority, yet daunting task.

Incorporation within existing control or certification programs is complicated and fragmented at the moment. Plans are to use existing herd data, location, other species, GPS coordinates, and limited market data to build a more robust system. Electronic ID technology can be integrated with GIS programs to make a comprehensive environmental and farm-to table program.

The program will begin in phases.
Phase one is the registration of each premise that houses animals. This is just
about ready to begin in Pennsylvania. In most cases farms that are already on some sort of state or federally sponsored program are earmarked to have ID’s assigned very soon. There are some logistic problems at this time with data base privacy issues. Once these have been resolved in the PA legislature, then numbers will be assigned. This is a national system and is being coordinated by the USDA through each state’s department of agriculture. Once farms are registered
Phase two will be the identification of each animal with a unique system. Visibility with an electronic option has many advocates and advantages. There are numerous options in this category. Making the system cost effective and the data readable across all the many options is a problem but is being resolved. Another major area of concern is how to best identify large lots of animals. This is an obvious problem for poultry producers as well as some swine finishing houses and beef feed lots. Debate is still ongoing on this issue, but the current position is to identify lots of animals as an unique group. As technology progresses there may be a move in the future to individually identify all animals, even poultry.
Phase three is limited incorporation within terminal markets to test the system. PA has already been testing this system for 5 years with panel readers in two large packing plants. Just the adaptation the premise ID and terminal market ID components of NAIS reduced the time necessary to trace cattle in Michigan in their TB control program by 50%. Phase four is the incorporation of a system to track animal movement between farms and terminal markets. Plans are currently underway in PA to place hand held and a limited number of panel readers in the state. These will be tested in auctions, cattle buying stations, and small packing plants. Electronic ID and hand held readers are being distributed by PA DHIA in limited locations as part of a pilot program. Exactly how to handle all the data, what to collect and how to best incorporate everything into a workable system is still not totally resolved.

Privacy issues have been a concern for producers, processors, and regulatory officials. It is important to reassure the public that at this time that only animal and disease tracking information is being collected. Great efforts are being exerted to assure that any proprietary production data or personal identifiers beyond what is needed for trace backs remains in private data bases.

In Pennsylvania the animal ID program is coordinated through the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic System (BAHDS).

  • PA HERDS is the acronym for the data base with premise ID.
  • Telephone BAHDS 717-783-5308
  • Ron Miller is the ID Coordinator and Dr. Paul Knepley is Director of BAHDS

Veterinary Extension and Field Investigation are willing to help with questions (814-863-2160).

Useful information can be found on a number of websites:

David R. Wolfgang, Extension Veterinarian, Department of Veterinary Science, Penn State University