Eye Scanning Could Be Mandatory at State Fair by '07

Fair officials say it's much more reliable than nose printing. Tom J. Bechman

Published on: Jul 13, 2006

Don't panic. If you've heard about retinal eye scanning for identification purposes but know your county didn't offer it this year, you're not in trouble. You can still exhibit beef, lamb and wether goats at the 2006 Indiana State Fair as you long as you have nose prints.

However, the nose printing option won't likely last forever, says Clint Rusk, Purdue University Extension Youth Specialist working with livestock. The retinal eye scanning is so superior that it could soon be mandatory for any animals in the above-mentioned categories being exhibited at the Indiana State Fair. In fact, current plans on the books call for mandatory eye scanning in '07 for all animals coming to the state fair. When counties have weigh-ins and /or identification days in the future, all animals going to the state fair will need to be scanned in both eyes. Both eyes have unique patterns of retinal blood vessels on every animal. Just as with fingerprints, every animal is also unique from one another.

The trouble with nose prints, Rusk says, is that quality of prints received at the state fair office before shows range from good to terrible, little more than a smudge. And interpreting prints to make a match between an animal nose printed at the fair and the prints taken back in the county at weigh-in of the same animal requires expertise. The Indiana State Fair generally hires a local sheriff's deputy, and has them on site to evaluate prints during shows. Top-end animals are nose printed and their prints compared to earlier prints to prove that there has been no switching of animals.

With scanning, the matching process can be done right in the show ring, Rusk says. A computer program does the hard work, determining which ones match and which don't.

The Indiana State Fair operated retinal scanning on a trial, voluntary basis last year. "We had 100% matches of all animals we tested,' Rusk says.

Eye scanning equipment is marketed as Opti-brand. One drawback that could delay mandatory implementation is that units cost $2,500 each. The company offered a $1,000 break per unit a year or more ago, but only continued it for three months. Several counties took advantage of it. Other counties are exploring forming a partnership with another county to buy a unit.

"Our records indicate better than 40 counties experimented with retinal scan this year," Rusk says. "We think it's something that's going to grow because once you get onto it, it's so much easier to go. And if there are problems, it's much more clear cut. There is little or no second guessing- either it matches or it doesn't."