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Weatherproof IDs: Micabs pigments enable the text on ear tags to stand up to the harshest environmental conditions
People carry their IDs securely in their pockets, but cows wear theirs as plastic tags in their ears, where they are clearly visible and at the mercy of the elements. These bright yellow tags are individualized documents that record each cow’s biography, making it possible to determine everywhere and at all times where a particular animal belongs. This comprehensive documentation of an animal’s life is meant to protect consumers against goods of dubious origin. In response to mad-cow disease and other diseases, databases were set up throughout Europe to document all steps in the chain extending from an animal’s birth to the sale of the product at the meat counter.
At birth, calves are given two identical ear tags made of flexible, dirt-resistant plastic. These tags provide each cow with a distinctive mark that contains all the information about the animal. This information can neither be changed nor deleted, and the ear tags are organized identically throughout Europe. The first piece of information on the tags is the country code, followed by a standardized, unique ten-digit number. In Germany this number indicates, for example, the state, locality and farm the animal is from. All this information is also contained in a barcode, which can be read with a scanner. Consumers benefit from this comprehensive safety measure because it helps to combat animal diseases and makes the purchase of meat safer. Another benefit is that the tag documents where the animal is from.
The transparent cow
The BSE crisis was a key factor in the move toward greater safety — in 1999, Germany hesitantly introduced an information database known as HIT for the secure tracking of animals. This database is like a registration office for animals that collects all the information available on them. The databases are used to check which animals from a herd must be examined, for example. The results of earlier examinations can be taken into account as well and compared with the new findings. To ensure smooth operation, it is essential that the examination results be directly linked to the respective animal.
People have to show their passports or IDs when they travel to other countries. By contrast, if a cow goes on a journey — because it is being sold, for example — a message must be sent to the central database. Such messages must be sent by buyer and seller alike, since this is the only way to properly check the database information on the animal to determine its plausibility. But what devices should be used to read the barcodes, and how is this information forwarded to the database? “We basically use scanners like the ones at supermarket checkouts. These scanners can be handheld or fixed installations. After the barcode is read, the software converts the code into plain text so that people can read the information on the animal,” says Corinna Ludwig, Head of Global Marketing Pigments Printing & Plastics at Merck.