Mandatory ID Inevitable
Aug 10, 2009
By Steve Cornett
It’s not often you get the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the cattle splinter groups and the “family farm” activist outfits aligned, but they all have problems with the idea of a mandatory National Animal Identification System.
I’m with them on this. But I’ll lay you odds that we or our kids will see a de facto mandatory program. It will be mandated by consumers and the processing and marketing segments they control if not the government, and it won’t be designed to protect the beef industry from animal disease, but consumers from bad production practices.
If the government doesn’t require it, the government won’t pay for it. That won’t matter much because the cost to individual cattle producers will be minimal and the rewards great.
But it looks like it won’t be administered anytime soon by USDA. The House has eliminated funding for the program and the Senate last week voted to slash its budget.
What’s a bit ironic is that it was the people who think of themselves as protecting small producers who most strongly opposed NAIS. They are worried about the little costs and problems associated with a government mandated and financed program when what they should fret about is how they will get access once the private system or systems kick in.
Chances are many will find themselves locked out of a commercial system, the same way they’re basically locked out of, say, a national satellite marketing program that requires sellers to offer load-sized lots of similar cattle to participate.
Nobody in the commercial business wants to fool with little guys. Big order buyers aren’t going to stop by a Georgia farm to bid on a half dozen mixed steers and heifers, for instance. They prefer to let the little guys pay the freight and absorb the shrink and expense associated with auctions.
I’ve tried for years to talk big cattle feeders into putting together feeding clubs for little producers, and a few feeders have tried it. But one after another discovers the expense of managing such programs eats up the profit possibilities.
My guess is that we’ll find that “voluntary” animal tracking programs will offer another disadvantage to smaller producers. Unless...
Unless those smaller producers learn to use those ID programs and new technologies and management opportunities that surround them to help coordinate efforts with others to improve their herds and enhance marketing efforts. That’s what all that stuff the anti-NAIS warriors refer to as “significant reporting and paperwork burdens on small farms” can do for small producers who adopt the technology rather than fighting it.
Some have already done it, of course. Others will.
But others would rather fight than switch. They’ll finally wind up locked out, and they’ll blame the government and “corporate agriculture” for their misfortune.
Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.
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