USDA finally appears ready to make a decision on national ID. According to the May 24, 2011, Wall Street Journal, "USDA wants every cow to have a unique numerical ID, stamped on an inexpensive ear tag to make it easier to track animals from to feedlot to slaughterhouse." In making that statement, USDA officials further go on to say that regulations will be rewritten so that hot-iron brands will no longer be recognized as an official form of identification for cattle sold or shipped across state lines. To read the full article, click here.

While, this isn't a major leap forward on identification, it is a start. That unique numerical ID that they are referencing is the century-old metal brite tag that is similar to the one placed in a calf's ear when veterinarians vaccinate for USDA's brucellosis program. As we stated in a January 25 editorial, while brite tags are inexpensive, those metal tags do nothing to improve traceability in a world where information moves at the speed of a mouse click.

Dairy has widely adopted visual ID. In fact, according to the 2010 Hoard's Dairyman Continuing Marketing Study, 99 percent of dairy producers reported using cattle identification for record keeping. Of that number, 77.9 percent use ear tags, 8.8 percent use neck chains and tags, 6.9 percent use tattoos, and 3.6 percent use RFID. The remaining 2.8 percent use freeze branding, hot branding, ankle tags, or other identification methods.

Even though the brite tag costs are low and would definitely support traceability and ensure markets during a disease outbreak, some ranchers are balking at the idea. They cite the fact that support for branding may drop with lack of recognition by USDA, while others say potential new rules are burdensome and regulatory overreach by the government.

What do you think? The Wall Street Journal poses this on its Question of the Day, "Should the USDA retire brands and instead require ear tags for tracking cattle?" Click here to see the Question of the Day.