A Case Study on Tracking and Eliminating Tuberculosis (TB) from Animal
Population with RFID Implementation
Courtesy: Michigan Department of Agriculture
The Animal Industry Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) is responsible for working with a statewide clientele of more than 15,000 beef and dairy producers (the producers) that raise approximately 1.1 million livestock animals. The livestock is worth close to $800 million.
Free movement and trade of healthy animals is the key to the profit and survival of the livestock business. If a cow cannot be traded in an auction market or sent to a slaughterhouse, the producer is unable to recoup the investment made in the material and infrastructure needed to raise and feed the cow. A widespread disease outbreak that kills the animals or requires the producer to depopulate his herd can have devastating consequences for an individual producer as well as other businesses that depend on healthy livestock industry for their income.
A few years back, the producers and the state of Michigan were looking at this stark scenario. After initial discovery of Tuberculosis (TB) in the tissue samples of a deer herd in Northern Michigan, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) found the disease present in beef herds in 13 northern counties of the lower peninsula of the state. This led to depopulation of several herds. The neighboring counties and states were also weary about the spread of the disease inside their borders over time. The disease spreads when a healthy animal comes in contact with the saliva or exhaled air of an infected animala situation common on farms as well as auction markets where animals share feed and drinking stations. In 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which was monitoring the situation and saw the growing spread of the disease, revoked Michigan's status as a TB-free state (for animals), triggering various restrictions on animal movements in and out of the Michigan counties. The restrictions included extra TB tests required for the animals, and added overhead per animal in terms of dollars and time spent compared to animals in TB-free states. Clearly, this was not conducive to business for the state's livestock industry.
To regain the TB-free status, the officials from MDA continued to test the livestock for TB in the affected counties, but they faced several issues. Because the number of animals testing positive was small compared to the number of total animals, it didn't make sense to depopulate them all or restrict movement of (ability to buy and sell animals) animals from all farms. To complicate matters, TB can remain dormant for a while before surfacing. An animal that tested healthy could, over time, develop TB. This meant uniquely identifying every animal and keeping a very accurate record of its movement. A typical bovine can change hands three times from birth to slaughterhouse. With the large number of animals involved, the paper-based tracking was turning out to be costly, time consuming, and prone to errors.
Faced with these challenges, the MDA looked at deployment of the National Farm Animal Identification Records (FAIR) program. RFID technology was seen as an enabler for this project.
Scope of the Project
The scope of the initial project, limited to the 13 affected counties, was to develop an Electronic Animal Identification (EID) system with the goal to identify all bovine (cattle) in the affected areas, and track and record their movement to eliminate infected animals. Successful completion of the project would restore Michigan's status as a TB-free state (for animals) over five years, provided no more infected animals were found. Of the 15,000+ farms in the state, approximately 1,600 farms located in the affected 13 counties participated in the project. The farms contained approximately 70,000 animals. The project was implemented in four phases:
The USDA provided a grant for this project, which totaled $1.5 million over three years from 2001 to 2004. Most of this money was used to set up the requisite infrastructure for the project. Additionally, the MDA used its own people resources to test and record animals as well as manage the project.
Hardware and Software Products Used
The Solution: How It Works
The EID (Electronic Animal Identification) system consists of four components:
For more information about how host computer and software interact, see Chapter 3, "Components of RFID Systems."
All animals are assigned a unique number using the American Identification Numbering (AIN) system. This number and the corresponding information about the animal are loaded in the FAIR database on an on-going basis. This data synchronization step is critical to the proper execution of the system. MDA officials armed with hand-held readers and computers ensure that the correct data is recorded. Farmers are also issued certain tags (with IDs) to be used on newborns. To date, approximately 180,000 RFID tags have been issued to animals on 1,600 farms in the affected counties.
To identify animals as they change hands, RFID readers are installed in 12 live-stock auction markets in Michigan along with seven slaughter plants in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. The majority of Michigan's livestock passes through these facilities. As animals pass through the narrow animal alleys in these locations, the stationary readers mounted on the side read their IDs from the tags in their ears. These stationary readers can read tags up to 36" away (although the hand-held readers can read tags only 6" away). More than 33,000 animal identifications have been made at these facilities.
To further safeguard the system, the MDA requires movement permits for all animals, moving to any destinations. The system allows farmers to print the permits from their computers using a Web-based application. MDA can also fax a permit to a farmer who doesn't have access to the Internet. If an animal meets certain criteria, it is issued a movement permit. An animal without a permit is not allowed to be unloaded at the auction markets or slaughterhouses. After an animal is identified at these locations, the computers at these facilities update the animal's profile in the FAIR database with a new location. After an animal is slaughtered, the corresponding entry is removed from the database.
Results and Lessons Learned