How technology helped reduce the impact of a bovine tuberculosis outbreak

A disease outbreak is one of the most tragic things that can happen in any industry that relies on crops or livestock. In September 2016, the Canadian beef industry was faced with an outbreak of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) – a disease that had the potential to devastate our cattle producers’ operations.

Fortunately, in this case, the outbreak was brought under control, and its impact minimized, using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Read on to find out how.

What happens when disease is discovered

When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that a case of bovine TB had been detected in a cow from Alberta, the first step was to identify the farm of origin. This was quickly achieved through a combination of RFID tags, brand identification tattoos, metal tags and farm tags.

The next step was an investigation so that control measures could be put in place to help prevent the spread of the disease. According to the CFIA, the investigation’s first stage involved identifying all the animals from that farm, and any that had encountered them.

Phase two of the investigation required tracing all animals that had left the infected farm in the last five years, and also tracing any animals that they had come into contact with.

During the third phase, CFIA identified the herds from which animals had been introduced into the infected herd in the past five years. The goal here was to identify the source of the infection, but the reality is that it cannot always be positively confirmed.

Once the infected animals had been identified, and farms they’d been on were traced, any adult cattle that could have come into contact with the infected animals were quarantined and tested to verify whether the disease had spread to other farms.

By the time the outbreak was contained, approximately 11,500 head of cattle had been humanely destroyed, and 14,000 were quarantined and subsequently released.

The role of traceability

Being able to trace the movement of cattle that may have been exposed to the infected herd was fundamental to the CFIA’s ability to prevent the spread and impact of the disease.

According to CFIA, animal traceability contributes to be an effective disease response and reduces the impact of a disease outbreak on individual producers and the industry as a whole. Good tracing information supports a faster response and can help limit the number of farms that must be quarantined.

The outcome of the outbreak

The TB outbreak was finally contained, but not before the beef industry experienced a significant impact. Nonetheless, without the benefits of RFID technology, the outcome would have been even worse. It’s worth noting that Canada’s world-leading cattle traceability system is made possible due to the diligence of industry members, who play a critical role in ensuring this information is collected and maintained. If this information had been incomplete or unavailable, the length of the investigation and the ability to determine the source of the infection would have been impacted significantly.

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