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The Codex Alimentarius Commission defines Traceability as “the ability to follow the movement of a food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution”. Livestock identification and meat traceability systems were introduced in countries as a reaction to the BSE problem. A good traceability system provides accurate information on the origin, sex, age, breed, movements and records veterinarian treatments an animal received. Traceability systems are important tools to prevent the spread of animal diseases and to enhance biosecurity in general.

Animal identification and livestock/meat traceability are not themselves food safety, animal disease prevention or quality assurance programmes, but they facilitate public health, veterinary public health and animal health interventions.  FAO through its contribution to the Codex Alimentarius commission is involved in inclusion of traceability within international standards.


Common animal identification options include

  • Paint/spray markings
  • Hot/Cold branding
  • Tattoo
  • Collar tag (neck band)
  • Plastic/metal eartags
  • Microchip (RFID-Radio frequency identification device)


Within the abattoir, meat traceability requires the clear identification of the live animals through to meat products. Possible meat identification options include

  • Paper/plastic Tags
  • Ink stamping
  • Bar code labels (see Figure 1 below)
  • Microchip (RFID)


Figure 1. Bar Code label (From FAO project in Somalia)

Bar Code label


Costs of the identification and thereby traceability systems vary hugely, depending on the options applied and the level of detail required. Functioning traceability schemes are often a precondition for meat producing countries to enter export markets. Hence traceability is not only a health issue but has also become a marketing tool. The goal is to achieve transparency in the meat chain “from farm to fork”.