Microsoft has partnered with supply-chain software vendor ViaTrace and a nonprofit livestock producers group to launch a database intended to track diseased animals in the U.S. and reduce consumer fears.The ViaTrace database will allow livestock producers and government officials to track diseased animals and avoid wide-scale bans of exports to countries that consume U.S. meat, said Charles Miller, chairman of the U.S. Animal Identification Organization (USAIO), a new group representing regional identification organizations and beef and bison producer groups.Since late 2003, several countries, including Canada, Taiwan and Japan, have temporarily banned imports of U.S. beef because of reports of mad cow disease, and USAIO believes the voluntary tracking database can limit quarantines to small areas, Miller said. The goal of the project, based on requests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to provide animal traces within 48 hours of a problem, Miller said."This database is of vital importance," Miller said. "As producers across this country, we need a means by which we can come together, meet the needs of a modern marketplace and track our animals' movements to protect against disease and unnecessary trade barriers."USDA in January backed off a plan to have mandatory animal identification by 2009, but Miller said he believes a voluntary database will accomplish the goal ensuring livestock quality. Democrats in the U.S. Congress have also pushed unsuccessfully for a mandatory ID system."I think the feeling is [producers] are ready to do something," said Miller, a Kentucky cattle rancher. "We think the marketplace will determine and decide the factor going forward."ViaTrace's database, able to track multiple species and many diseases, has a Web interface and supports 14 languages, said Joe Queenan, vice president and founder of ViaTrace, based in Dallas. Microsoft is providing supporting software, including SQL Server 2005, Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio 2005.The ID project "has the potential to make such a large impact on the livestock industry and the public at large," said Pat Arnold, CTO of Microsoft's public sector division.Pilot projects using the Web-accessible ViaTrace database have been under way in 17 states, and participants plan to allow individual livestock producers to enter their animals into the database by the third quarter of this year. In this second phase of the project, livestock producers will be able to enter animal information using mobile handheld devices, PCs, telephones or paper forms, the project's organizers said.At the start, producers will pay about 30 cents\u00a0per animal for the lifetime of the animal to participate. That cost will decrease as more producers use the database, and USAIO is looking at ways to spread the cost among other businesses in the meat-producing industry, Miller said.U.S. Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas)\u00a0praised the project, saying a voluntary system will work better than government mandates on livestock producers. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has pushed for a voluntary ID system for several years.