One livestock expert says the recent recall of more than 240,000 pounds of ground beef, the nation’s largest-ever such recall, could have been prevented or greatly minimized through better cattle tracking methods. Dr. Randy Wheeler, an assistant state veterinarian at the Iowa Department of Agriculture, says programs to follow a cow’s progress from the barn to the slaughterhouse are already in place, but they’re voluntary.
Wheeler says, “It would definitely help us to go and trace those animals back to the premises and that’s one of the reasons for the National Animal Identification System and for Premise I.D., is to make a streamlined, modern response process.” He says about half of Iowa’s livestock producers have signed on to the program versus about one-third of producers nationwide. Abbreviated as NAIS (rhymes with face), Wheeler says the program is three-pronged.
“It is in effect and it is designed to improve the identification of livestock and to help locate premises at risk and to streamline the disease investigation process in the event of animal disease or health crisis,” he says. The beef industry is worth two-and-a-half billion dollars a year to Iowa and Wheeler says the future financial viability of Iowa’s cattle industry hinges on improved disease response.
The U.S.D.A. issued the recall on February 17th after an undercover video was released that showed workers at a California slaughterhouse shoving sick or injured cows with forklifts to get them to stand.
Wheeler says 25-million live animals were imported to Iowa last year from all over the country, adding, a cattle disease outbreak in the state would be devastating. Wheeler says, “It would effect many people, not only producers but consumers, should a disease outbreak occur. It could be a lot of consequences and hardships, so NAIS is there to help control the spread, quickly trace and minimize losses and help lessen the extent of hardships in that case.”
During a disease investigation, animal health officials need to locate cattle involved in the outbreak and others that might’ve been exposed. The larger the percentage of animals with official identification, Wheeler says, the easier it is to trace a disease to its source and stop its spread.