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Rev Sci Tech. 2001 Aug;20(2):413-25.

A history of the traceability of animals and animal products.

[Article in English, French]

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Office International des Epizooties, 11 rue Descombes, 75017 Paris, France.


The author presents a review of the history of traceability as applied to live animals and animal products from antiquity to the 19th Century. The evidence shows that livestock farmers, owners, and those in charge of animal production and health were concerned with traceability from a very early stage. With regard to live animals, individual identification by means of body markings has been practised for over 3,800 years (Code of Hammurabi). Branding with a red-hot iron, with or without a written record of animal characteristics, was employed in most ancient civilisations. This branding technique was principally used on valuable animals, in particular horses, in which case a written record was kept. Individual indelible branding was used on other species over the following centuries, for example, on swans belonging to the Kings of England as early as the 13th Century. Branding for disease control purposes commenced later, prompted by the major epizootics (rinderpest, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, glanders and rabies). Marking of animals formed part of a series of very pragmatic measures, and the penalties in the event of violation were much more severe than is currently the case. Although modern traceability techniques were not available, our ancestors, as early as the 17th Century, practised indelible branding and strict health certification. Animal products were likewise closely monitored, particularly during the epidemics of human plague during the 14th Century. Some animal products could not be traded internationally unless accompanied by a certificate of origin guaranteeing safety. During the major epizootics of the 18th Century, some contaminated products (meat, hides) were cut up, slashed or covered with lime to indicate that the product was unfit for trade or consumption.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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