One More Reason to ID Your Cattle
Oct 03, 2011
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) has jumped into the animal identification fray with a study suggesting that foreign demand for traceability is probably enough to pay the costs of a mandatory national ID program.
And that’s not even why USDA wants to do it. USDA is worried about being able to trace and head off a disease outbreak. If the study is right, extra import demand would probably pay the bill for the whole thing.
This is not surprising. It is just one more reason the industry should be jumping all over USDA’s first-step proposal. It’s the least the agency can do.
Let me count the many ways an electronic tag and tracing system will be self-funding:
- The animal health thing. One day, we’ll get foot-and-mouth disease, and when we do, every minute will count. The faster the feds can identify and find every exposed animal, the less chance you or I will be wiped out.
- Herd improvement. This should take the work out of getting feedyard and carcass information back from feeders and processors, no matter who buys the calves.
- Consumer confidence. People trust branded products more because they know somebody is standing behind that promise. How does it look when producers say they are afraid of being held liable for their product?
- Country-of-origin (or any other) labels. All at once, packers will know the source and background of every animal going in their door. It won’t be long before their customers demand the same information.
- Evidence of ownership. Yes, yes, brands are adequate for trading cattle. But to get full benefit, some owner somewhere down the line is going to have to add the ear tag, so it might as well be the original owner who can then get full benefit from all that traceability information.
- Export viability. "Viability" may be too strong a term, but we saw what happened after the BSE cow in 1993. We went from "viable" to "unviable" overnight.
Here’s why it can be important. Traceability connotes trustworthiness. USMEF points out that we currently face one or more "trust" based restrictions on trade from most of our major trading partners, including China, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia and Mexico.
The European Union, Japan and Korea have already adopted mandatory traceability for their domestic cattle, and there is no reason to presume they won’t apply the same standards to exporters. Of the eight major beef-exporting countries in the world, that would impact only the U.S. and India. The other six have programs up and running.
The bottom line of animal ID is that the technology is here. The consumer demand is here. The cost, compared to other cattle production inputs, is nearly negligible.
I can understand people not wanting the government to make it mandatory. I don’t, however, understand why so many oppose the idea of developing an industry-driven ID system and making it, if not "mandatory," then at least a condition of doing business.