December 31, 2008

Genetic Test Tracks Cattle Thieves

Cattle thieves on Argentina's legendary Pampas plains are getting rounded up by police-coordinated genetic testing.

Argentina is famous for its free-range beef from grass-fed cattle, but experts say relaxed controls make it too easy for rustlers.

The government is expanding a database of genetic material samples from 10,000 cattle that have helped police solve 270 cases of cattle rustling since it was established in the Buenos Aires province seven years ago. The state-run Genetic Veterinary Institute, known as Igevet, facilitates it.
Any meat, including filet steaks or sausages, suspected of coming from stolen animals can be used as a source of genetic material to cross-reference with the samples of hair, blood or flesh kept in the cattle database.

Before the database, police said it was hard to prove rustling.

"The police always knew who it was ... but there was no evidence that could prove it," said Pilar Peral Garcia, director of Igevet, which is based in the city of La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires province.

So far, only Buenos Aires police have used the database. However, Igevet scientists are talking with provincial officials to possibly establish genetic cattle registers in others parts of the South American country.

They also want police to gain a better understanding of the powerful tool that tracks down thieves.

"A lot of time they send us a whole skull to take samples from, when really the only thing we need is a centimeter of meat," said Diego Posik, a researcher at Igevet, which is part of the University of La Plata and the National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigation (CONICET).


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