Perhaps no one is as acutely aware of the need for a national animal-ID system as Bob Hillman.

As executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, Hillman has had to deal in recent years with five foreign animal diseases: Newcastle Disease, West Nile Virus, monkey pox, highly pathogenic avian influenza and bovine spongiform encephalopathy. These are the foreign animal diseases introduced into the U.S. since 1999, and Texas has had all five of them.

On top of that, Texas and other south-central U.S. states ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have had to deal with displaced cattle. “We need to get those animals back to their rightful owners,” he says. 

To Hillman, the need for a national animal-ID system is obvious. “We cannot continue to debate the issue,” he says. “We need the animal-ID system, and we need it now.”

On Oct. 12, Hillman provided the most urgent testimony at a USDA hearing in Kansas City regarding the animal-ID issue. Several other livestock-industry representatives who testified were not as adamant about the need, or else they had concerns about the various administrative aspects. Of particular concern was the proposed records database and who would run it.

The USDA would like to see the livestock industry come together and choose a multi-species consortium to run the records database as a private legal entity. USDA would then enter into an agreement with that entity, allowing USDA access to the information on a constant 24-hour, 7-day-a-week basis in the event of an animal-disease emergency.

“It’s your livelihood at stake,” said John Clifford, chief veterinary medical officer of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, alluding to the need for timely traceback of animals.

Clifford also encouraged the different livestock groups in attendance to leave their organizations “at the door” and get on with the task of forming the multi-species consortium to run the database. 

One encouraging sign is the apparent unity among dairy groups, as shown in the recent IDairy announcement at World Dairy Expo.

We would like to see the IDairy model extended to other segments of the livestock industry as they get ready to tackle the potentially sticky issue of forming a multi-species consortium.  

As Hillman points out, we need to get on with this task as quickly as possible.