Mad cow spurs livestock ID system

The first reported incident of mad cow disease in the United States is likely to accelerate adoption of a system to better track cattle and other livestock through the food supply chain.

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman stressed the importance of developing the U.S. Animal Identification Plan to help the Agriculture Department respond to disease outbreaks in the nation's livestock supply, such as the case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy discovered in a Washington state dairy cow Dec. 23. Such a plan would employ radio frequency identification technology to track livestock from birth to slaughter.

Veneman said Agriculture Department Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo would take the lead in developing the new system, which by some estimates could cost $600 million to implement. Details about how the Agriculture Department plans to fund the initiative were not immediately available.

The ID plan has actually been in the works for more than 18 months. Weeks before the mad cow diagnosis, the development team extended a deadline for input on the plan until Jan. 31.

Local and regional groups have already begun development of their own ID programs.

The Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium of Verona, Wis., and the Beef Information Exchange, which comprises five companies that develop technology solutions for tracking livestock, have started to build their own ID systems.

Representatives of each group told Computerworld they likely would try and partner with federal systems integrators if the Agriculture Department moves ahead with the project.

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