tampabay.com

Mad cow tracking still not in place

Associated Press
Published March 19, 2006


WASHINGTON - Investigators may never figure out where the Alabama cow with mad cow disease was born and raised, in part because the United States lacks a livestock tracking system the federal government promised two years ago.

After the first case of mad cow disease in December 2003, the government pledged to get a nationwide program into place so officials could track livestock from their birth to the dinner table. But the system is a long way off.

Alabama officials saw the need firsthand last week as they tried to discover where the infected cow came from.

The animal had no ear tags, tattoos or brands, and spent less than a year on the farm where she died. The trail seems to have gone cold at an auction where she was sold last year.

"We need an animal ID program in this country so it will help our industry and help our farmers when we have these kind of situations," the state's agriculture commissioner, Ron Sparks, said Friday.

Ideally, a cow would get the same number throughout its life. Different technologies, including radio-frequency tags, retinal scans or even DNA of a cow's eye could help with the tracking.

The goal is to pinpoint a single animal's movements within 48 hours after mad cow or a different disease is discovered.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said last May that the tracking system would be in place, run by the government and with mandatory participation, by 2009.

So far, the department has assigned individual numbers to 213,376 farms and other "premises." This month, officials moved closer to issuing numbers to animals when they released guidelines for ear tags and other devices.