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USDA Releases RFID Animal-Tracking Project Report

The Agriculture Department concludes that "animal identification and tracing can be implemented successfully in a production environment."
By Claire Swedberg
May 11, 2007The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a final report on 16 RFID pilot projects related to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which predominantly uses RFID technology. Overall, the report concludes, the projects demonstrated "that animal identification and tracing can be implemented successfully in a production environment."

Funded with $6.6 million from the USDA-run Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), the pilots took place at sites throughout the United States and tested the NAIS system in real-world applications involving beef and pork producers, as well as dairy farmers and slaughterhouses. NAIS, a voluntary state-federal-industry program, is an information system designed to help animal producers and health officials respond quickly and effectively to animal disease outbreaks and other health events in the United States.

The 16 projects' participants employed a variety of RFID systems and methods to tag animals and track their movement. All used low-frequency RFID tags, initially seeing a read rate of only about 60 percent but later making changes that improved performance. "This demonstrates that NAIS will work well," says USDA public affairs specialist Wayne Maloney. The pilots, he explains, "provide concrete examples of the system's capabilities."

The report highlights a number of favorable results. For instance, it notes that the retention rate of an RFID tag (the rate at which it stayed in an animal's ear for the duration of use) was nearly 100 percent—higher than the 96 to 98 percent rate for visual tags.

The pilots proved to be a learning opportunity for the users. "The pilot projects themselves," Maloney says, "allowed people to move forward and make [their RFID technology] work better." Read rates were improved by means of hardware modifications made throughout the pilots. In Kentucky's Southeastern Network Pilot Project (SENPP), for example, slaughterhouse managers found that the width of the alleys, in which 2,700 cattle are herded daily, caused a low read rate because the read range was not long enough to reach every tag. Reader providers Boontech and Allflex USA developed a reader system to accommodate the wide alleyways, resulting in a read rate of about 90 percent.

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