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Canada Expands RFID Policy To Stave Off Mad-Cow Disease

U.S. cows have been invited back to graze in southern Canada. But they must be tagged with radio-frequency identification chips that identify place of birth.
U.S. cows have been invited back to graze in the lush meadows of Alberta and other parts of southern Canada. But they won't be let loose until they're wearing ear tags embedded with radio-frequency identification chips.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Identification Association, created by the Canadian government several years ago to implement a national ID program, recently revealed that all U.S. cattle who graze on Canadian feedlots must be tagged with an RFID chip that identifies place of birth. The association will oversee tag distribution and manage a database of information on livestock.

Behind the change is the recently lifted bilateral ban on cattle importation between Canada and the United States. It was put in place after the discovery in December 2003 of a cow in Washington that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The disease, also known as mad cow, affects the central nervous system of cattle and can be harmful or fatal to people who eat infected beef.

By being able to quickly identify an animal's origin, Canada hopes it can react rapidly in the event of a mad-cow scare. Feedlots will tag the animals on arrival from the United States. Distributors will ship the tags to feedlots across the country, says Robert Taylor, president at distributor Compass Animal Health. "The borders between Canada and the U.S. recently opened after being closed for two years," he says. "Now we're expecting between 175,000 and 475,000 [cattle] to come across each year to feed."

Compass Animal Health has placed an order for 5,000 tags from RFID supplier Digital Angel Corp. to prepare for the uptick in business. The policy to tag cattle to identify place of birth is already enforced among Canadian cattle. The distributor says it sells about 1 million tags annually to Canadian beef-cattle ranchers and government agencies.

Since 2001, under Canada's Health of Animals Regulations, all cattle arriving or leaving a farm must be identified by a unique number that appears on an ear tag either as a bar code or encrypted in an electronic device. As of Sept. 1, that ID will have to be in the form of an RFID tag.