K-State Seeks True Cost and Benefit of Animal ID Systems

University researchers embarking on extensive study.

K-State researchers have received a $499,462 grant from USDA to determine the benefits and costs of electronic animal identification systems, including the impact of these systems on livestock disease management.

Though the United States has had limited exposure to any severe livestock disease, an increasingly global society and heightened bioterrorism threat make an outbreak more probable. Over the past couple of years alone, foot-and-mouth disease has broken out in 17 countries, according to Ted Schroeder, a K-State professor of agricultural economics and principal investigator on the project.

While there have been no cases of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.S., bovine spongiform encephalopathy disease -- sometimes referred to as mad cow disease – made its way into the U.S. in 2003. It was enough to give researchers a glimpse at the consequences of livestock disease. In one of the three recent U.S. cases, the infected cow could not be traced. All that was known was her terminal location, approximate age and breed mixture. An animal ID system would have shown officials where she had been and could have led to more thorough surveillance and testing of other potentially exposed animals.

"Currently the U.S. is battling several contagious animal diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis," Schroeder says. "Disease outbreaks cause economic hardship on producers, they cost taxpayers when the government has to intervene, and result in the loss of market access for food products."

The animal identification systems study is an outgrowth of prior work by Schroeder and a team of agricultural economists that predicted as much as a $945 million economic impact in Kansas if foot-and-mouth disease was intentionally introduced into a handful of large-scale cattle operations in the state.

If there an outbreak today, animals that likely had direct contact with the disease would be stamped out. This translates into big economic losses for producers and consumers, Schroeder says.

Schroeder predicts that widespread implementation of an animal ID system would substantially reduce those losses.

"If animal trace-backs were 90% successful within 24 hours, total producer and consumer welfare losses would be expected to be nearly 40% less than with current animal identification methods," Schroeder says.

However, the voluntary nature of the existing national animal ID program has translated into low levels of participation, he adds.

The study will look at how expensive such tracking systems are and will attempt to quantify the benefits. At K-State, Schroeder is also working with Dale Blasi, professor of animal sciences and industry; Kevin Dhuyvetter, professor of agricultural economics; and Jeri Stroade, Extension assistant in agricultural economics. Researchers from Colorado State University, Montana State University and Michigan State University are also involved. The study's results will be released in 2008.

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