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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, July 2003

John B. Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech

Getting Ready for COOL and Homeland Security

Many beef magazines have been awash with articles on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) causing many producers to wonder what steps they should be taking so they are not at a marketing disadvantage when COOL goes into effect on September 30, 2004. Unfortunately, the exact effect of this law on beef producers is not known. Neither has it been fully concluded which cattle will need to be identified. US cattle only? Foreign cattle only? Or all cattle? To add to the confusion, the USDA is not allowed to dictate a national identification (ID) program. So is COOL really a concern to US cow/calf producers? Yes.

In addition to COOL, several other factors will impact animal ID in the coming months. The Bio-Terrorism Preparedness Act of 2002 indicates that producers of food products (including livestock) will have to be able to establish a trail of where animals immediately came from and where they went next after they left the farm. A "one back, one forward" system. That information is supposed to be made available to the FDA within 48 hours after the FDA requests it. This trace system is required to be in place by 13 December 2003.

The reason for the Bio-Terrorism Preparedness Act of 2002 is to have a way to rapidly trace the route food took from birth/planting to consumer should there be a terrorist attack on the food supply. This information would be essential in stopping the spread of a plant or animal disease.

To add to the growing call for better animal ID, Japan and Korea are considering requiring proof of US origin for beef coming from the US. This is a result of the BSE situation in Canada. They want to ensure they are not getting Canadian raised beef processed in the US.

What can and should cow/calf producers do?

It is very likely that one or all of the situations just covered will result in the need for better animal identification. However, until clear directions are given on COOL and the other situations, it would be unwise to invest in a complicated ID system.

Since only about 50% of the calves in US cow/calf operations have an ear tag (NAMHS, 1994), tagging each calf is the place to start. Each calf should have a unique number for your operation. For example, calves born in 2003 could be tagged 301, 302, 303 etc. Cows should also be tagged.

The next step is to keep basic records of calf/animal origin or births as well as sale records. Table 1. illustrates the various types of records the USDA indicates may suffice to establish country of origin. Note that producers don't need to keep all these records just a few that establish the origin/birth, raising and sale of animals.

Table 1. Examples of USDA suggested records to meet COOL requirements
Seed Stock / Cow Calf Stocker / Backgrounder Preconditioning /Feedlot Slaughter/ Fabricator
Provide enough information for an auditor to verify the origin and ownership of the animals identified and to verify the stated designation. Properly identify and record all animals according to the designation Identify and segregate animals as to the origin designation. Properly identify all animals sold. Maintain the integrity of the identification. Maintain ownership transfer. Upon receipt properly identify animals according to their designation. Segregate and control animals. Properly identify all animals sold. Maintain ownership records. Segregate animals according to the country designation. Segregate and control carcasses throughout the system and properly label product according to the country designation. Document origin of all product.
Examples of Records and Activities that may be useful.
Birth records Transportation records Transportation records Transportation records
Receiving records Receiving Records Receiving Records Receiving Records
Purchase records Purchase Records Purchase Records Purchase Records
Cow/Calf tag ID system ID system ID system Plant ID system
Sales receipts Sales Receipts Sales Receipts Sales Receipts
Feed bills Feed bills Feed bills Carcasses ID
Feeding records Transfer of ID System Pen records Shipping manifest
Animal inventory Feeding records Feeding Records Packaging records
Acreage inventory Declaration documents Shipping records Weight tickets
Site maps Preconditioning Records Rate of gain records ­Yield records  
APHIS VS Forms APHIS requirements APHIS requirements  
Production estimates VS Forms and Records VS Forms and Records VS Forms and Records
Health records   Health Records  
Ownership records     FSIS labeling Reg
Segregation plan Segregation plan Segregation plan Segregation plan
State Brand requirements State Brand requirements State Brand requirements  
Replacement activities Replacement activities Accounting process for inbound animals  
Beef Quality Program Beef Quality Program Beef Quality Program  
Breeding stock information      

The examples of documents and records listed in this table, although extensive, are not inclusive of all documents and records that may be useful to verify compliance with the Country of Origin Labeling provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill. Additionally, maintaining documents and records such as those listed as examples will not necessarily ensure compliance. The documents listed are examples only and are for the sole purpose of providing information for producers, processors, and retailers to consider when establishing records for verification purposes. During a compliance audit conducted by USDA, auditors will review any and all documents to the extent necessary to arrive at an accurate decision on the level of compliance.

Adapted from USDA at For cow/calf producers keeping the IRM Redbook or BCIA Calving Record is sufficient for now. Then, for example, you can prove that calf 301 was born in February to cow 1452. That information will prove origin of the calf. Keeping records of purchase for stocker cattle or breeding stock will indicate where the producer bought them.

Calves that are sold through the VQA Certified Feeder Cattle Program will have tags that will meet the requirements for COOL. As long as producers retain their calving records and VQA processing maps, they should have sufficient documentation for COOL and other origin programs.

Finally, retaining sales records such as scale tickets and check stubs will work to indicate where calves went after they left the farm. With this information, it is easy to prove that calves 301-365 were sold at the Lynchburg Livestock Market in October; given new back tag numbers; and sold to buyers 24, 63 and 88.

It is my recommendation that fall calving herds tag all calves at or near birth beginning this fall. All spring calving herds should consider tagging calves born this spring at mid-summer working if not already tagged. Producers with spring calving herds should definitely tag all replacement animals retained this fall and calves born spring 2004. Cows in all operations should be tagged or freeze branded.

These basic identification and record measures should be sufficient until the Government gives beef producers a better indication of the level of ID and records needed.

Virginia Cooperative Extension will continue to update producers periodically on COOL and other animal ID issues. For the most up-to-date information on COOL check the following websites periodically.

Remember if you don't have web access at your operation you can connect to the web at your local library or County Extension Office.

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