"Currently, every automobile has a VIN
number, and this is recorded at every transaction with that vehicle.
There is no compelling reason why this same procedure cannot be
applied to livestock," said Philip J. Dziuk, professor emeritus of
Yet more than 20 years researching
animal identification systems and advocating a federal guideline has
convinced Dziuk that achieving what might seem a simple goal is
Under the leadership of Dziuk and the
late Sid Spahr, the U of I Department of Animal Sciences was an
early leader in developing electronic identification systems for
animals. Since that time, a number of other identification
procedures, including DNA and iris scans, have proven effective.
Still, efforts toward a national system have languished in the
In 1996, when European outbreaks of mad
cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease were still in the future,
Dziuk authored an article, "The Physiology, Psychology, Politics and
Possibility of Permanent, Unique, Electronic Identification of
Animals." The title reveals some of the factors that in Dziuk's view
have delayed implementation of an identification system.
Dziuk wrote that the physiological
problems associated with reliable animal identification systems had
been solved and improvements were on the horizon. The psychological
problems, he said, were a bit tougher, as they involved "a very
considerable change in long-standing procedures."
But the primary roadblock, in Dziuk's
view, is the politics.
"The politics of achieving an animal
identification system may be even more difficult because first,
people must change, and then the written word as a reflection of
politics must change," he said. "People will have to be convinced of
the logic in positive, permanent identification of animals."
Heightened concerns over the
vulnerability of the U.S. food system to possible terrorist attack
and, now, the appearance of mad cow disease, a malady that decimated
the British beef industry, have increased the receptivity toward the
Will these be enough to break through
the barriers of resistance? It is a complicated issue, as Dziuk
knows from experience. There are a number of concerns or
disincentives throughout the system.
"An experience with positive
identification of 300 hogs from the farm through the packing plant
indicates some of the challenges," said Dziuk. "The hog producer
became uneasy with such traceability when he found that poor-quality
hogs could be traced and penalized. On the other hand, the packer
realized that the producer found that his high-quality hogs were not
being paid in proportion to their value, and the packer became
[to top of second column in
Dziuk emphasizes, though, the other end
of the equation.
"When both buyer and seller know that
the product can be identified and traced, the seller will be less
inclined to try to foist off an inferior product, and he will, in
turn, be rewarded for a superior product," he said.
With 50-plus years of experience with
livestock on farms, in farm field trials and in research, Dziuk is
convinced that "there is a potential problem and that there are
Lacking traceability, an outbreak of
mad cow disease, hoof-and-mouth or other similar maladies can
disrupt an entire industry. Identification allows a quick and sure
means of isolating the infected animals and creates a means for
traceability, ensuring a greater chance of containing disease
outbreaks and protecting human health.
No one system, he said, is best for all
animals. Electronic implants will work in some species; approaches
such as iris and retinal scans, antibody and DNA analyses will work
best in others. Use of Global Positioning System technology offers
great promise in traceability applications.
Dziuk pointed out that by combining
various identification technologies and GPS, "You could pinpoint
where the driver, the truck carrying animals to market and the
animals were at any given time in transit."
"For most of these approaches, the
means of identification will probably be cheaper than the costs of
indemnifying diseased animals. We only have to look at the costs to
producers in Europe and Asia who have been hit by disease outbreaks
to gauge what U.S. producers could potentially face," he said.
"Additionally, a system of animal
identification reduces the possibility of theft, fraud and
Key to any system is a central
repository of identifications. "That system in itself will provide
an effective deterrent to disease spread and other problems," he
said. "All methods need to be linked by a computer in a central
base. A central database provides health authorities, breeding
organizations, food processing and law enforcement one source to
identify an animal.
learn from the European experience that controlling disease
outbreaks can be very expensive, especially when unidentified
animals are moved from place to place."
[University of Illinois news