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Cattle identification, such as hot branding, has been used extensively in North America to show ownership of cattle. The purebred industry has used tattoos to establish unique animal identification. Other types of ID have been adopted for successful herd management for production, health and breeding decisions.
With the support of the Canadian cattle industry, regulation was enacted on January 1, 2001, requiring all cattle leaving the farm of origin to be identified with a tag bearing a unique identification number.
Regulated National ID History and Purpose
To maintain beef export markets, the Canadian cattle industry proposed and received regulated approval to establish the Canadian Cattle Identification Program, run under the authority of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA). The purpose of the program is to contain and/or eradicate 16 reportable diseases through identification and trace-back of infected animals. The program has been put to the test many times with identified cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Initially, Canadian export markets closed after the first case of BSE, but some markets reopened soon after, partially due to the trace-back system that was in place.
The program also integrates age verification with national ID. Age verification is a requirement for some export markets and is important, domestically, for determining when it is necessary to remove specified risk materials (SRMs) at slaughter. SRMs are tissues in a cattle carcass where BSE concentrates. By regulation, SRMs are removed from the carcasses of animals older than 30 months of age and disposed of separately. Some export countries have age limitations for Canadian cattle.
How Does It Work?
Since September 1, 2006, all cattle leaving their herd of origin must be tagged with a CCIA-approved RFID (radio frequency identification) tag (Figure 1). Tags are distributed through authorized dealers only and registered to the producer. Tags can be placed in either ear of the animal, except in Quebec where all cattle must be tagged in the animal's right ear.
Each RFID tag has a visual and electronically embedded 15-digit number (Figure 2). The first three numbers (124) indicate the code for Canada, and the remaining 12 digits are unique to each tag. This number forms the unique animal ID in a national database maintained by the CCIA. The RFID number is retired from the database once the animal is disposed of through slaughter, death or export. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) enforces the program by monitoring cattle for appropriate tags at public auction barns and slaughter facilities.