By STEVE BROWN
State veterinarian Leonard Eldridge said Washington got a head start on animal disease traceability in 2006, and the new rules from the USDA complement what is already in place.
"There are really no surprises," he said. "It doesn't contain anything we haven't been talking about."
Among the changes announced by USDA:
* Recognition of brands and tattoos as official forms of identification.
* Continued use of back tags as an alternative to ear tags for cattle going to slaughter.
* Exclusion of beef feeder cattle from this rule, except for rodeo and show cattle.
* Exclusion of chicks sold by hatcheries across state lines from identification requirements.
"Basically, it's looking at requirements like health certificates and notifications," Eldridge said. "It's all important to us in determining animal health, for importing healthy animals and tracing animals within the state if I get notification from another state vet."
The Washington State Department of Agriculture enters animal ID information into a searchable database "that allows us to put a specific piece of information on one item and bring up all the other information," he said.
About 1.2 million individual animal ID devices have been dispensed, and the database includes about 400,000 individual IDs on animals that have entered or left the state or have been tested for disease.
Animals are assigned a 7- to 15-digit number, and entering just a part of that number brings up a list of possibilities.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said, "It's fair to say the Washington cattle industry should be pleased with the outcome of the rule. The USDA listened to cattlemen and vets."
Allowing states and tribes to accept brands as identification in interstate commerce is a welcome rule, and using back tags removes a "huge burden" from producers.
Other rules addressing vaccinations and negative trichomoniasis tests for bulls are "nothing new," Field said. "We already have those requirements. (Rules for) feeder cattle will be on down the line, and we'll be very active in that. This is workable, a good starting point."
Eldridge said the state is still deficient in the brand program. "It's still paper-based, and we need to get it more electronic, a more searchable database."
A private company is developing a similar database "if we could afford it. It's all about money to finish what we've started or to buy this service," he said.
"We need a stable source of funding. It's really come home the past couple of years that what we had in 2006 we don't have today."