Livestock ID in the blink of an eye
by Molly Johnson
for the Fence Post
Recognizing the need for a more humane way to identify livestock (by avoiding iron branding) three Colorado State University (CSU) professors (Bernard Rollin, Ralph Switzer and Bruce Golden) joined forces to create a product called the “Optibrand Secure Source Verification System.” A small hand-held computer and digital camera captures a retinal pattern of the animal’s eye (along with time, date and location) within seconds, helping to identify the animal for future use along the production line.
“Dr. Bruce Golden came up with the name, with ‘Opti’ meaning eye, and ‘brand’ as a way to symbolize that this system is used in the same way as iron branding, but is more humane as it only uses the retinal vascular eye pattern (rvp), or what we call the ‘eye print’ to identify the animals,” said Switzer, the company’s chief financial director.
The rvp is a design of distinctly different blood vessels, much like the fingerprint of a human being; it is unchanging from birth to death. Even in the same animal, each rvp differs from eye to eye, just like each fingerprint on a person’s hand is different from one another. With the use of the digital camera, the image can only be captured at one angle, which makes it identical to every other image taken of the animal at different locations. The rvp is unable to be duplicated.
Wondering how it works? A digital camera captures the rvp and uses infrared light to illuminate the ocular fundus and then transmits a full motion video to a hand-held computer, called the “OptiReader.” The camera needs only to be positioned in front of the eye for less than a second, making the process very humane and non-invasive. The digital camera takes a motion picture of the retinal image just behind the optic nerve of the animal’s eye until it captures a clear, precise image. Using the camera may be simpler than you think, taking only a three-minute training session to learn how to use it. The software is specially designed to target the image it’s looking for, making the job for the person behind the camera a lot easier.
After the image is digitally captured and linked to the animal’s precise location with the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) that is installed in the camera, it is then sent through the system to the Optibrand Company based in Fort Collins, Colo. At the Optibrand offices, the date, time, and GPS location is specially encrypted to prevent tampering and logged away in a permanent database with that animal’s record. Other information ” such as ear tag numbers and health and performance records ” can also be integrated into the database at the owner’s request. Optibrand ensures a secure and paperless tracking method unlike any on the current market.
Since the recent outbreaks and publicity surrounding mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, and swine fever, a renewed desire to create a universal source verification system has surfaced. “Our solution (Optibrand) will greatly aid countries that need to deal with problems like mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease,” stated Switzer in an article for the Fort Collins Coloradoan after recently receiving a patent for the livestock ID system.
The invention of Optibrand could provide useful information in the efforts to assure food safety, provide high quality brand name retail meat products, and support business-to-business transactions including livestock. A meat product can be traced from birth to slaughter with the Optibrand system by tracking the number, source, and location of ownerships throughout any supply chain. Some of Optibrand’s main goals are to make meat production related business operations more efficient, and to support quality assurance claims that meat has never received hormone or antibiotic growth treatment.
The Optibrand system could quite possibly render the use of ear tags useless in providing accurate source trace backs, due to the highly technological and accurate process in which it will operate. Optibrand will allow the livestock industry to easily trace animals all the way from their farm of origin to the packing plant where they were processed due to the simplicity of a single rvp image. The Optibrand system is also very cost efficient, being cheaper than a single ear tag to scan a single image. Each image scanned costs approximately 60 cents.
In the area of food safety, Optibrand could help to assure the quality and safety of brand-name retail meat products by managing accountability, food safety and product recalls for the companies that use the new source verification system. In the near future, a consumer at the grocery store will be able to purchase meat that has been traced through the Optibrand system. Specially bar-coded packages with an Optibrand logo will identify these meat products. The product sold to the consumer can be traced back to a specific animal through the Optibrand barcode. The information from the barcode contains a special DNA code, which matches the finished product with the animal’s database. In the event of a product recall, farms of origin or packing plants where the animal was scanned last can be alerted in case of a spread of disease.
Ideally, the Optibrand system will be readily available to the livestock industry early in 2002. Packing plants and slaughter houses will probably own their own digital retinal camera, but farmers and ranchers, or other livestock owners will be able to rent the camera from their local feed stores for a specific amount of time. “The only reason it’s not on the market yet is because we have four working prototypes being used in our labs here at CSU to make sure we have all the kinks ironed out before we start to sell the system,” said Switzer.
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