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Utah officials, beef producers at odds over new bull ID policy

By Rebekah Rodriguez
Oct. 9, 2016

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food is no longer accepting trichomoniasis tags on bulls as a form of official individual identification, and beef producers are expressing concerns the change will mean new costs.

“As an ag industry, we have appreciated being able to use the trich tags as an official ID because it serves a dual purpose,” said Brent Tanner, the executive vice president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association.

Being able to use the already required trichomoniasis vaccination tag as a form of official identification was cost effective and beef producers would like to continue to see it used, he said.

Tanner said that soon the government will ask for a different form of ID and producers are concerned about the extra costs and labor associated with it.

But according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food the tags should never have been used as individual identification and the recent change was made to correct a mistake.

“In the past, there was a push to use the trichomoniasis tags as a way to individually identify every beef bull,” said Chris Crnich, a veterinarian at the department. “So two or three years ago we said that was OK. Which was our original oversight.”

Crnich explained that once an official United States Department of Agriculture animal identification number and tag is given to an animal it is illegal to remove the tag.

The trichomoniasis tag "is changed every year and removed,” Crnich said. “Every year the bull is trich-tested and a new tag replaces the old one, so it just didn’t work since it was going to be removed and we didn’t realize that.”

Barry Pittman, the Utah state veterinarian, said the trich tags stated “unlawful to remove” on them and “there were a lot of veterinarians that were uncomfortable cutting off a tag that said that.”

While Utah’s government sees annual replacement of tags as negative, Utah Cattlemen’s Association said this is a benefit of using the tags as official forms of ID.

“Tags aren’t perfect and they’re even less perfect in bulls,” because they like to rub against things “and will rub them out,” Tanner said. “We replace trich tags every year which means there are fresh tags every year that aren’t brittle, which means they’re less likely to fall off.”

“I can see why they want one number for a lifetime ID… but they’ve been working fine,” Tanner said. “The tags have to be put in by an accredited veterinarian and are distributed from the state vet. It’s not like we’re just passing them out to whoever.”

According to the Utah Administrative Code, all beef bulls residing in or traveling through Utah are required to test negative for trichomoniasis, or “trich,” a venereal disease that can lead to infertility.

Each year, a different colored tag is chosen by states in the western region to indicate a bull that has tested negative for the disease, Crnich said.

“The biggest difference is that the tag won’t have an 840 number, the USDA identification,” he said. “Other than that it’s all the same. Vets still apply for x-amount of trich tags and we’ll still send them.”

“There’s a bunch of different varieties” of official tags that beef producers can purchase, Pittman said.

Pittman said the department will give beef producers official 840 button tags free of charge while supplies last and will continue to distribute metal NUES 87 tags at no cost, both of which count as USDA official animal identification when crossing state lines.

Tanner said that although the offered button tags have a higher chance of staying on the bull than the traditional bangle tag, “they’ll still have incidents of them falling out as they break down over time.”

“There’s a bunch of different companies out there,” Pittman said. “The price depends on what they want. I don’t think they’re horribly expensive.”

Valleyvet.com is a commonly used livestock ID tag distributer. According to its website, an official USDA 840 tag can range between $1 and $4 depending on the type of tag and the number purchased.