Cargill, one of the largest hog producers in the country, has agreed to use a new kind of visual identity tag that solves the problem of tracing back cull sows and boars to their farms of origin.

The Swine Premise Tag, developed by the Destron Fearing unit of Digital Angel, a technology company focused on animal identification, includes a tamper-proof button and a pink visual panel stud. Each tag carries the official U.S.D.A. shield emblem, an assigned seven-character, alpha-numeric premises identification number, and a notice stating "Unlawful to Remove." There is enough leftover space for producers to include an individual management number.

"It’s the first visual identification tag for any species that U.S.D.A. has approved as part of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)," Steve Bretey, swine business manager for the Destron Fearing unit, told

"As an industry, swine production has been a leader in tracking animals, but there was a weakness for cull sows and cull boars," he continued, noting that U.S.D.A.’s NAIS Swine Working Group specifically recommended that a tag be developed for cull animals. Non-cull hogs bred for meat have been traceable for several years – Digital Angel is the largest supplier of identification tags in the swine industry – but the nature of the cull system, with one or a few animals picked up at a time from each of several farms, somewhat akin to the system used for collecting cull dairy cows, made traceability difficult. The new tag, however, solves the problem.

Bretey said Cargill Pork, which is the eighth-largest U.S. hog producer, is the first large-volume customer for the new tag system. "They have a mantra of being a food company – they’re a pork producer rather than a pig producer," he commented. "The tag gives them another level of assurance. It really was designed to help create a more comprehensive disease-control effort. It’s something Cargill didn’t have to do, because the NAIS program is voluntary, but it’s something they think is the right thing to do."

Digital Angel has received interest from other hog producers, Bretey said, though he didn’t want to identify them before contracts and agreements had been signed. "I think we’re going to see continual adoption of the new tag going into 2009," he added.