20,979 British Cows "Mislaid"


The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) admitted in Parliamentary questions that it didn't know the whereabouts of some 20,979 cows that it is required to track, the London Telegraph and others reported this week.

Defra was required in 1998 to set up a Cattle Tracing System, in order to protect both public and animal health after the Mad Cow and foot and mouth epidemics that devastated UK farmers over the past 20 years.

As is explained at the Defra website, "Cattle tracing is an integral part of the Governmentâ''s efforts to improve consumer confidence in British beef. A computerised Cattle Tracing System (CTS) was launched in Great Britain on 28 September 1998.... "

"The CTS makes it possible to

* check which animals are present on a holding

* check where an animal has been during its life

* trace animals exposed to a disease risk

* give assurances to buyers about an animalâ''s life history, and so

* strengthen consumer confidence in beef."

However, according to Defra, â''There are 207,461 animals registered onto the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) born before 1996. Of these 20,979 are reported lost or at present not traced for reasons such as alleged theft. In addition to these there are 1,039 animals whose final destination is presently unreported.â''

Well, I don't know how much British consumer confidence (or British farmers' confidence, for that matter) was strengthened after Defra admitted that it had lost track of 10% of the cows it is supposed to be closely monitoring for infectious diseases.

Yet again another situation that shows that databases are only as good as the data fed into them.

Of course, British papers are having an udder field day with this, as expected.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City