Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A paradigm shift for disease traceability

Chris McGann

Veterinarian Jake Murphy swipes a RFID reader wand past
the ear tag on a cow at Everson Auction Market. The system
quickly and accurately records disease traceability information.
During lunch hour on a warm summer day earlier this month, WSDA Director Derek Sandison walked into the Everson Auction Market café and a scene that harkened back to the small-town America of 60 years ago. He settled onto a vintage swivel stool along a narrow lunch counter -- friendly waitress, handwritten menu on the wall, cash only.

Sandison ordered a burger.

This is probably not the first place most people would look to find cutting-edge software or industry-leading technology.

Through the doors behind him, the tidy auction floor was bright with a fresh layer of sawdust. Early birds talked quietly in the bleachers while they waited for the afternoon sale to start.

The pace matched the setting when the bidding began. A tiny Jersey bull calf was first on the block, then a few other slightly larger calves, and finally some individual heifers nervously stamping around the pen against the cadence of the auctioneer’s call.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison (right) hears about a new RFID
project from veterinarians Amber Itle and Brian Joseph. 
But Sandison hadn’t come to buy cattle, or for the nostalgia.  He was there to see the future of animal disease traceability (ADT).

Behind the scenes at this small sale barn in this little town just south of the Canadian border, a demonstration project initiated by WSDA veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is ushering a new era for ADT.

This first-of-its-kind project in Washington is integrating radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that allows sale-yard veterinarian’s to capture electronic ID with a wand reader. This animal health information is used to generate electronic Certificate of Veterinarian Inspections (CVI), brucellosis test records and brucellosis vaccination records in the market system.

Dr. Itle gave Sandison a tour of the facility’s veterinarians inspection area where animals that will be sold at the market and returned to the country receive an official RFID ear tag the vet enters into the system with a wand reader. With that, CVI and vaccinations administered can be quickly and accurately recorded.

Animals headed for slaughter pass by a “panel reader” for RFID in the cattle chute to record the time an place of the animal prior to going to the harvest facility where they will be read one last time to confirm the animal was actually killed.

Sandison was impressed by what he saw.
A Holstein cow moves past an RFID reader panel in a chute
at Everson Auction Market.  

“This program is much more than a demonstration project,” he said. “It’s a paradigm shift for the industry.”

All ADT market data is transmitted electronically to WSDA’s ADT system, “Animal Tracks,” in real time at the close of each sale. Everson has been successfully using the enhancements for more than a year.

ADT is critical to ensuring a rapid response when animal disease events take place. An efficient and accurate traceability system reduces the number of animals and response time involved in a disease investigation, which also reduces the economic impact on cattle producers.

In the last year, WSDA’s ADT Program has focused on building infrastructure for capturing electronic individual identification at public livestock markets and slaughter facilities. This year, WSDA is working to identify additional opportunities to electronically collect traceability movement information during commerce and comingling locations. These comingled locations pose a higher risk for potential disease spread and are a higher priority areas for ADT.

Currently, all of Washington’s major livestock markets are in the process of implementing upgrades. Once completed, WSDA will have full traceability information for 99 percent of market cattle.

Slaughter facilities 

As of February 2019, four of the largest slaughter facilities in Washington are capturing and sharing official individual RFID information at harvest. Currently, WSDA’s Animal Tracks can capture 98 percent of all animals with electronic official individual RFID tags harvested in our state. WSDA is the first state to implement a tag retirement system in the country.

Long-term phasing in for the ADT Program

USDA plans to phase in mandatory official RFID by 2023. Identifying the majority of cattle with RFID is much more accurate and efficient than a system that requires manual recording of individual identification.

WSDA is currently using local and federal funds to purchase official RFID tags for markets collecting and reporting animal health and movement information electronically to the state veterinarian. In addition, WSDA has been using funds to purchase tags in preparation for a tag promotion for veterinarians that perform brucellosis vaccinations and producers that use the Electronic Cattle Transaction Reporting system later this year. Currently, WSDA provides free tags to all markets that report electronically.

This temporary subsidy will help producers transition to the RFID before USDA phases out metal tags starting in December 2019.

For more information about ADT and RFID, visit the Animal Health section of our web page.