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Dairy Today Readers Respond

RSS By: Dairy Today editors, Dairy Today

Thoughts and comments from Dairy Today readers.

Defending Animal ID

Jan 18, 2012

Dear Dairy Today:

As a dairyman and a veterinarian, I read Jim’s editorial “Dairy’s Go-It-Alone Animal ID” with interest. Of even greater interest, and profound concern, were the responses from our brethren in the beef industry.
Both the editorial and the two posted responses used Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) as their example. An excellent choice, as we know of no other disease that could compare to it, for its potential to devastate our animal agriculture. FMD is incredibly contagious and unquestionably shuts down exports whenever it crops up.
The two responses were from individuals involved in beef production. They both felt the key to preventing FMD in the US is better border security. What they didn’t clarify, and what I cannot conceive, is how do we protect our border against something the size of a test tube? FMD virus is common in several countries that would love to do us harm: North Korea, Iran etc. Terrorists would not need to drive a semi-load of cattle or sheep across the border; a test tube in carry-on would do the job. 
Even if it were possible to spend enough billions of dollars to give us sufficient border security, and it’s not, why would we want to leave ourselves defenseless on this side? To the French, the Maginot Line seemed like a great idea. As a result, they neglected their internal defenses. When the line was breached, they were ripe for the taking. Sure, let’s have border security, but don’t stop there. There is no single “best defense” with such a disease.
The point was made in the comments that animals can move from coast to coast in 48 hours so there is no defense possible. Actually, the mobility issue is a strong argument for RFID. Sure, animals move around, but the majority stay put most of the time. If we can rapidly track who has been where, accurately, we can gain invaluable days in controlling an outbreak. Years ago, we did have FMD in this country and we managed to eliminate it with great effort and expense. In those days, agriculture was far less mobile than it is today.
Many/most of us in both the dairy and beef industries spend enormous energy communicating the story of the miracle of modern agriculture to consumers. I passionately do so myself. Are we then to take a position that modern, mobile agriculture is somehow more susceptible to foreign disease outbreaks, but producers were not willing to take rational, protective measures? I don’t want to try to make that argument.
One further point was made suggesting we are making a grave mistake by moving the National Animal Disease Lab from Plum Island to Kansas. Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s kind of hard for us on the outside to tell if we are better off with a modern facility inland or a more antiquated but isolated facility. However, I can’t for the life of me see how this means that we don’t need to strengthen our industry’s own defenses in either case.
This whole issue between the dairy and beef industries on RFID is analogous to the beef quality differences between our two related industries. I cringe to read about the role the dairy industry plays in beef residues. There is no excuse for it.  We in the dairy industry need to clean ourselves up. The shoe is on the other foot, however, where animal IDs are concerned. If we mess up on something like FMD disease, we are not just in for a bad year or two. Instead, we will need to find a way to explain to our next generation how we managed to screw up the world’s finest agricultural production system right before we handed it to them.
Don Niles, DVM
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COMMENTS (3 Comments)

Steve Van Wie DVM - Hortonville, WI
In response to “cow land, Sherburne, NY”:

As gentlemen I hope we can confine our responses to the topic at hand and not throw barbs at each other. As a DVM, I for one never treated a dog or cat in 30 years of practice. I excused over $52,000 in uncollectible dairy client bills the day I retired.

Rapid animal ID and tracing is something that we could need only once. “Once” could be tomorrow, next year, or never. Problem is we simply do not know when it might come.

While the producer is asked to carry perhaps $2 or $3 /animal of the burden (few cents per year over the life of a dairy animal), that is not the only cost. I believe the majority of cost would be easily spread across the state and federal governments to establish the interconnected computer systems needed to literally be able to punch in an ID number and trace animal’s movements. There would be a small cost at the sale barn and processor level as well in scanning animals as they move through the system.

Why? What is the alternative? We’d be watching helplessly as an out of control “wildfire disease” caused widespread and disastrous loss of millions of animals in our dairy, beef, and swine and sheep inventory. Our current lack of instant traceability is like having a beautiful fire truck ready to respond to a barn fire. One huge problem: No gas in the tank.

Some will say “Ah, but the Feds would pay us ‘indemnity’. We’d get paid in full for the animals killed.”

Not so fast. What happened to the beef market after the suspected FMD cattle were found in Holton, KS in 2002? Or when the BSE cow was found in Washington State on 12/23/03? In both cases markets went down the limit; McDonalds and Smithfield stocks sunk like rocks.

A 2006 NCBA survey found that 69% of American consumers believe they could contract FMD by eating tainted beef or dairy products. What will that do for consumer demand? Will there even be a “market” for your live animal or processed product?

In June 2008, Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of USDA Veterinary Services gave what I think was a very important speech at an Extension meeting in Fargo. He explained how indemnity would work in the face of FMD. Anyone reading this should click this link and play the “video” associated with Dr. Clifford’s remarks. RealPlayer is required. Then make up your own mind about how markets would react.

According to Dr. Clifford, Federal indemnity during FMD is NOT based on what the animal’s value would have been on a normal trading day. Federal indemnity is based on the animal’s value in the marketplace “at the time of the event, less salvage value, if any”. In other words, you get what’s she’s worth on the day she is killed for disease control purposes.

And the Federal check is made out to the producer and anyone with a lien on the cattle.

Give some thought to what you think will happen in the livestock markets after the discovery of FMD is announced. Do you agree with Dr. Clifford’s vision? In his speach he gives two possible scenarios. If you’ve got a cattle and machinery loan, think even longer and harder.

If you think your usual cattle mortality insurance will cover you, think again. Dr. Julie Smith, Extension Dairy Vet for Vermont, discussed this recently on her blog. It is the second article down the page:

There is no way other than to regard positive, rapid, traceable animal ID, in whatever form it takes, as part of our disease fighting tool kit. Just like the fire extinguisher in the milk house. The cost is minimal and something that can be shared industry-wide.

Steve Van Wie DVM
Hortonville WI

10:39 AM Feb 5th
cow land - SHERBURNE, NY
as a dairy farmer, Don, Steve why should I be the one to cover all costs associated with this program. Most dairies keep good records on the farm. it is when the animal leaves the farm and becomes someone else's responsibility to track them that things get lost. should not the processors be responsible for some of the cost. oh wait they will just pay less for the animals. the dairy industry is far from being out of the wood from 2009 and you want to saddle cash strapped farmers with more costs without any way to offset the expenditures. if USDA wants to give the tags to farmers for no cost then I wold support it but the number of unfunded mandates continue to grow, and at some point will put everyone out of business. I don't expect either one of you to be worried about that because there is more money treating cats and dogs than farm animals.
11:39 AM Jan 24th
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