A Cow in northern Michigan last year developed tuberculosis, and, in just a few hours, the Michigan State Department of Agriculture was able to figure out where the animal was born and what other livestock it may have come in contact with. The quick action was made possible by data stored in a radio-frequency identification chip on a round plastic tag pierced through the animal's ear. As a result, other cattle that might have been infected with TB were found and tested before they could pass the disease along, possibly even to humans.
In contrast, it took two weeks for federal officials to complete the DNA tests that confirmed the Alberta, Canada, birthplace of a Washington state cow that was identified on Dec. 23 as having bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials had to wade through a mound of paper records and other data maintained by breeders and meatpackers to trace and recall beef that may have been exposed to tissue from the infected cow. Prices for live cattle dropped about 15% to 80 cents per pound the week of the discovery. And last week, a herd of nearly 450 Holstein calves, among them the unidentifiable offspring of the infected cow, had to be destroyed.
A national livestock-tracking system would help avert these dramatic outcomes. Such a program would be the biggest IT project ever attempted by the meat industry, potentially costing nearly $600 million over six years, according to those working on the project. An RFID-enabled ear tag alone can cost up to five times as much as a typical 75-cent metal ear tag with an identification number, though RFID tags could drop to $1 each in volume if all 100 million cattle in the country had them.
News source: InformationWeek - Cattle Trails