Advocacy in action
This little piggy went to market, but from where?

The pork industry has long recognized the need to identify cull sows and boars entering market channels. Given that they generally enter the harvest channels as individuals rather than as a group or lot, they must be individually identified as to herd of origin. Historically, the industry has utilized back tags for the identification of cull breeding stock. Although cheap and easy to apply, back tags have a terrible retention rate and are at times difficult to read. In an effort to improve animal identification and traceability, the National Pork Board’s Swine ID Plan ( is promoting the use of ear tags as an official form of individual animal identification.

Pork producers and packers have voluntarily adopted the recommendation put forth by the Swine ID Plan to transition away from back tags in favor of a USDA-approved ear tag. The official ear tag, or PIN tag, is pink and contains an imprint of the USDA shield. The tag is embossed with the premises identification number (PIN) on the front and back, along with the statement “Unlawful to Remove” on the button. The tag also contains a barcode to simplify capturing the premises data. Producers can order the tags with or without pre-printed production numbers allowing the PIN tag to replace existing production tags.

The industry supports the transition to PIN tags for a number of reasons:

• Improved retention;

• Improved speed, efficiency, and accuracy of traceability efforts;

• Supports disease surveillance programs, including comprehensive and integrated swine surveillance;

• Hastened ability to detect and contain diseases; and

• Supports access to international markets.

According to the procedures outlined in the Swine ID Plan, the producer will apply the PIN tag prior to the animal entering the market channel. The tag will display the PIN of the premises housing the animal immediately prior to entering the harvest channel. The tags will then be collected during processing as an official form of identification and included with samples submitted for disease surveillance.

In order to obtain the PIN tags, producers must first register their premises with the state animal-health official from the state in which the premises is located. The AASV supported the premises registration effort undertaken by the National Pork Board, and numerous packers are now collecting PINs when animals are presented for processing. In addition, the PQA Plus program requires producers to have a valid PIN when re-certifying for the program. The swine industry leads all species groups, with over 85% of premises registered. Producers and veterinarians can learn how to register their premises online at

PIN tags can then be ordered from a number of USDA-approved suppliers. A list of approved suppliers is available online at The producer will have to provide the tag supplier with their PIN, request the official PIN tags for slaughter swine, and determine how many pre-printed production tags or blank tags they wish to order. The supplier will verify the validity of the PIN and ship the tags to the producer as usual.

It should be noted that other means of official identification (including back tags, metal Brite tags, radio-frequency identification tags, etc) will still be accepted by USDA, at least for now. Although it is slightly more expensive than the traditional production tags, the industry supports the transition to the PIN tag, recognizing the improved efficiency gained by enhanced retention and improved accuracy of identification at harvest and in the diagnostic laboratory. Because the tags contain the PIN, state and federal animal-health officials can determine the specific premises from which the animal(s) originated, thus hastening their ability to control a disease outbreak. Similarly, it is the expectation of many international trading partners, and an increasing number of domestic markets, that the industry have an effective system in place to identify our animals and track their movements. Back tags are no longer, and perhaps never were, an acceptable means of achieving realistic and timely traceability.

Swine veterinarians should join with producers to implement the Swine ID Plan and the transition towards the use of the PIN tags for the identification of cull breeding stock entering the harvest channels. This is an important program to promote animal health and ensure access to domestic and international markets for pork and pork products.