USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing a mandatory identification and tracking system for livestock and poultry being moved across state lines, but the poultry industry is largely exempted because the existing system for poultry is more comprehensive than in the cattle industry, the government said.

Poultry flocks being moved across state lines directly to slaughter will not come under the new requirements, the agency said, nor will birds being sent to diagnostic facilities, or flocks participating in the National Poultry Improvement Programs (NPIP).  The agency said NPIP and other programs “provide USDA and its partners with pertinent traceability information.”

“Thus, the proposed animal disease traceability regulations focus on those species, such as the cattle sector, where improved capabilities are most needed,” APHIS said in a notice of a proposed rule published Thursday in the Federal Register.  “That sector’s inconsistent use of official identification coupled with the significant movement of cattle interstate warrants regulations that enhance the current traceability infrastructure.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a conference call with the media that the tracking system would help reassure foreign meat buyers in the event of a widespread outbreak of disease.  “Other countries that have a traceability system have used that as a way of gaining market advantage,” Vilsack said.

Mandatory traceability has been a hot topic in the food animal sector.  The National Pork Producers Council commended APHIS for its approach, while the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it would “carefully analyze and comment on” the proposed rule.

Generally, animals moving across state lines will have to have an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI) and a Group Identification Number (GIN) or be individually tagged.  This does not apply to animals being moved within a state, nor to interstate movements of animals directly to registered slaughter facilities or to diagnostic facilities.

The rule does apply, however, to birds being shipped to live bird markets.  They will have to have veterinary certificates and either a group number or individual numbering devices such as leg bands.

The proposed rule is open for comment until November 9, 2011.  The proposed rule and fact sheets on it are posted to the government web site