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July 2008 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Could COOL drive National Animal ID?

Jul 24, 2008

By Jim Dickrell, editor Dairy Today


In an ironic twist, the 2008 Farm Bill’s Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements could speed the implementation of national animal identification.

Why ironic? Many of the very people who favor COOL are also the same people who oppose, almost to the point of violence, a national animal identification system.

I’ve never been a fan of COOL. On my top 10 list of priorities in assuring consumers that the food they buy is safe, I’d rank it about #20.

Nevertheless, Congress included COOL in the Farm Bill it passed earlier this summer. USDA’s goal is to publish a interim final rule on COOL by July 30, with an effective date of September 30.

Keep in mind that the Farm Bill prevents USDA from using COOL as a pretense to implement a national mandatory animal ID program. But even if it’s not mandatory, a national ID program is the next logical step.
 
What simpler way to identify cattle than with an electronic RFID button tag that’s linked to a registered U.S. premise? 

If anything, market forces will drive the need for a simple, cheap identification system, say both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF)
 
“Anything new like this will be market-force driven,” says Colin Woodall, NCBA’s executive director of legislative affairs. Food retailers will be required to verify country of origin of the meat products they sell, and they’ll pass that requirement on to their suppliers who will pass it down the chain all the way to the farm. 
 
“The market place is going to drive the treatment of animals, including identification,” agrees Chris Galen, NMPF VP of communications. “We’ve always advocated animal ID, not for marketing purposes or for COOL, but to protect our infrastructure.”
 
Note: More than 42,000 of commercial dairy and heifer operations, some 70%, now have their premises registered for national ID. 
 
Imported Canadian cattle, which have been coming across the border since late November of last year, are already required to carry official Canadian brands or individual ID, including their Canadian ear tag and records to prove premise of origin. 
 
As of last week (July 15), retailers will have to verify they have the records to prove Canadian cattle origins. For more on the identification requirements of Canadian dairy cattle imports, click here. These rules were set last year, prior to the border opening November 19.
 
I’m no trade law expert. But it seems to me the Canadians could get a little uppity if U.S. domestic requirements for cattle ID to meet marketing requirements are less stringent than those for imported cattle. (Can you smell a World Trade Organization challenge coming?)

So COOL could be a blessing in disguise. If it speeds the adoption of comprehensive (if not mandatory) national ID, it might well be worth all the other hassle of meeting COOL requirements from the farm to the meat case. 
 
COOL nor national animal ID will prevent a major disease outbreak in this country. But national ID could certainly help contain the outbreak should it occur. 
 
Containment is essential. One estimate, offered by Tom McKenna with the Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratory, suggests a foot and mouth disease outbreak could cost the U.S. livestock industry $27 billion dollars. That’s roughly three-quarters of the farm-gate value of all the milk produced in this country last year. 
 
Anything that could limit such a disaster, even COOL, is worth it.


The Dairy Talk column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy market analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.

BST more eco-friendly than organic

Jul 09, 2008

By Jim Dickrell, editor


A new study, published last week by the National Academy of Sciences, turns conventional wisdom on its head:

Milk produced using BST is far more friendly to the environment than milk produced organically. The reason is basic biology. Milk produced using BST takes far fewer resources than milk produced organically.  

In simplest terms, organically-raised crops produce less feed per acre and organically-fed cows produce less milk per lactation. Therefore, to produce the same amount of milk, you need more acres of organic feed and more organically-fed cows.

And the numbers aren’t even close.

To produce the same amount of milk, you need 33% fewer BST-treated cows than organic cows and 35% less land area. At the same time, the fewer BST-treated cows will excrete 45% less nitrogen, 39% less phosphorus and reduce overall global warming potential with fewer methane emissions by 19%.

The study, funded by Cornell University, concludes: “[Our] study demonstrates that use of BST markedly improves the efficiency of milk production and mitigates environmental parameters including eutrophication potential, acidification potential, greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use.” For the complete study, follow this link.
 
The Cornell air emissions findings concur with a 2006 British study comparing organic and conventional production systems. Click here to read more on the study
 
These studies are more than mere academic exercises. World food demand is rising along with environmental concerns. In the United States, population will grow to 377 million by 2040 to 2050, up some 70 million from today. To meet the 3-A-Day dairy requirement of all these folks, U.S. dairy production will have to climb 48 billion lb., a 25% increase over current production.

Couple that with the fact, yes, the fact, that global warming is real. Even Bush Administration officials now concede that point, reports Newsweek in its July 7 issue. (Recent flooding in Iowa, which helped push corn to $8/bu, is a likely result of global warming and climate change, says Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center. He was lead author of the Bush Administration’s “Climate Change Science Report.”)
 
Over the coming decades, the dairy industry will be asked to do two things: Produce more milk but with fewer environmental impacts. As the Cornell and British studies show, achieving both will be increasingly difficult if we do away with production- enhancing technologies. “Anything that gives us an increase in milk yield—long-day lighting, cow comfort, Rumensin, reducingmastitis—will reduce dairy’s carbon foot print,” Jude Capper, lead author of the Cornell study, tells Dairy Today. 
 
Dairy processors should keep this in mind before forcing their producer-suppliers to go BST-free. These processors are painting themselves into a corner, and they’re taking the rest of the industry with them. 


The Dairy Talk column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy market analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.

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