KCA Raises Questions for Proposed Cattle Trace Program Beginning Soon

The Cattle Trace program project is slated to begin Fall 2018. This collaborative effort is comprised of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, USDA, Kansas State University Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas Livestock Association and individual producer stakeholders. KCA continues to support traceability programs, and their development, but maintains a policy that these programs remain voluntary to producers.

The project’s aim is to design, research and effectively store results and inevitably implement a national ID and traceability system. This is just one project among many in the national movement toward mandatory traceability. NCBA developed their own Beef Industry Long Range Plan which debuted January 2018. A caveat of NCBA’s plan is the desire for a feasibility study to determine appropriate development of a national ID and traceability system.

While vulnerabilities within the framework, integrity and potential government distribution and access of accumulated and stored data derived from such projects has been an ongoing concern, Mary Soukup, assistant secretary for the Kansas Department of Agriculture assured the Cattle Trace project group is working to “design a system to be privately held and only available to government in the event of a disease outbreak.” It remains to be seen, the impact such projects will ultimately have on state and national record-keeping standards and animal health transparency standards across the industry.

The project outlined a test group of approximately 55,000 cattle. The test group would trace from farm to feedlot and through slaughter while implementing mock disease events to test the logistical structure of the system. While projects in the past have tested other equipment required in a traceability program, the Cattle Trace project began at the top, organizationally, and gathered support from three major packers. They are in the process of setting up 10-15 feed yards, a handful of sale barns and then will utilize farm and ranch level producers in an effort to augment and round out the 55,000 head test group of cattle. There are several key concerns regarding the Cattle Trace project. The first being the collection and storage of accumulated project results allegedly to be held by a “privately held” third party. The question begs to be asked, who is the private party slated to hold such information and how can producers and industry alike ensure said information will not be passed on to government agencies and private entities such as packers? If there were to be a transparency, in good-faith, and mandated by the government, what effect would the project results have on the industry, and more importantly, independent producers? These questions raise important marketing and production strategy implications for large and small independent producers alike.

In addition, the use of animal tracer tags have been designed to utilize UHF (Ultra High-Frequency) or LF (Low-frequency) technology. This allows communication between the EID animal tags and the hand-held wands and gate readers. There is an on-going and overlooked group of researchers who have been testing and compiling data for over two decades on the impact of EMF (Electromagnetic Frequency) on bovine and other mammal groups, more specifically humans. While there are documented and verifiable results for the effects of EMF on humans and bovine alike, the test studies on bovine are cause for concern when gauging the efficacy of conceptualizing mass application of EID tags.

EID tags require either UHF or low-frequency depending on the tag system being used. Cows are sensitive to the Earth´s magnetic field. Bovine magneto-reception can be influenced by external EMF, example: power-lines and cell towers. Cattle are sensitive to Earth currents (stray voltage) associated with transients in particular harmonics. Milk production, health, and behavior seem to be negatively affected. Bovine responses to radio-frequency (RF) exposure include avoidance behavior, reduced ruminating time, and alterations in oxidative stress. These findings indicate possible adverse health effects. Overall, cattle seem to be affected by environmental EMF exposure. Cows align to geomagnetic field lines and are influenced by ELF and EMF.

If mandated cattle trace programs are implemented industry-wide, what would the effects of ELF and EMF have on both the human and bovine populations? What safety measures would need to be implemented to protect both species, and at what cost? Independent producers could potentially be forced to meet mandates and in turn may not be able to sustain the financial investment and on-going maintenance and upgrades as the industry continues to utilize the newest technology available.

Cattle Trace expects to have enough testing and data collection completed by late summer 2019 to include an economic analysis. But many questions remain. Who will retain the information, how can they ensure the data will not be released to government agencies without due cause? How safe is the program in terms of health for both bovine and humans? How safe is the data from data miners and hackers?

The project is slated to last two years. The answers to said questions and the many others that need clarification may not be resolved in any specific time. However, independent producers and industry must maintain thoughtful consideration to all of the potential issues, any adopted system must be presented in a transparent nature.

Kansas Cattlemen’s Association is tracking the development of the Cattle Trace program and maintaining communication with development participants in order to gain clarifications to concerns during the process.

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