John Hollenhorst ReportingA new program is gearing up to protect American consumers from animal-borne illnesses like Mad Cow Disease. Utah livestock owners are being urged to register for a program that will eventually put a sort of electronic "I.D. card" on every animal.
Utah is one of 17 states actively gearing up for the program. Within about two years officials hope every head of livestock in the country will be tracked electronically, from birth to the slaughterhouse.
A Mad Cow scare in Washington state last year sent a chill through American consumers. And it was a wakeup call for government regulators. It quickly became apparent the US had no effective system for zeroing in on other animals at risk of infection.
Larry Lewis, Utah Dept. of Agriculture & Food: “Back then it took thousands of people four months to locate the animals associated with that one Holstein cow out of Washington.”
Last year investigators were able to track down only about half of the 80 cows associated with the one that was infected. No one knows if the other 40 were eventually slaughtered for human consumption.
European countries and Canada have more sophisticated tracking systems, possibly because they had earlier Mad Cow scares. Now the US is taking steps to put electronic ear-tags on all livestock, even ranch elk and chickens.
The tag keeps a record of every farm, ranch or feedlot the animal moves to. If it gets sick, investigators should be able to zero in on other animals it has associated with, no matter where they are, in less than 48 hours.
Larry Lewis, Utah Dept. of Agriculture & Food: “It’s intended to find any target animals as quickly as possible and take them out of the food chain and protect the food source and consumer safety.”
Quicker response time may settle some concerns of meat consumers, both at home and abroad.
Larry Lewis: “As you know, Japan is very leery about accepting any American beef. This will go a long way to assuring them that our beef is safe.”
Right now, livestock owners are only being urged to register. Ear-tagging in Utah will start with domestic ranch elk in about a month, and with other animals over the next two years. It's all voluntary and free to the livestock owner, at least for now.