BONN, Germany (CN) – Boosting its fight against outbreaks like mad cow disease, Europe’s executive body passed new rules to facilitate electronic tagging of cattle.
The system, which at this point is voluntary for farmers, is hoped to make tracking bovine movements quicker and more efficient.
Farmers and regulators in the European Union currently keep track of cattle through two tags attached to cows’ ears, with the information being noted or entered into a system.
Under the new rules, identification systems would use radio signals to transfer information from ear, leg or neck tags – or from ceramic capsules implanted in the first stomach of the grazing animal – to electronic-reading devices.
Such electronic tagging is already compulsory for sheep and goats in the EU.
The commission stated that such systems are “essential” for preventing and controlling animal diseases that affect humans, including bovine spongiform encephalitis, which is more commonly known as mad cow disease.
An epidemic of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s and early ’90s resulted in destruction of 180,000 animals at a cost of around $8 billion, and loss of at least 80 human lives.
Consuming beef infected with bovine spongiform encephalitis causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, a fatal, incurable degenerative condition.
The infectious agent in the disease is a prion, a type of misfolded protein, which remains contagious even after cooking at high temperatures.
The approved rules on electronic identification of cattle will continue on to the EU’s legislative body – the European Council – and the European Parliament for approval.