Out to Pasture: Animal Identification Gets a Friendlier Reception

September 30, 2011 03:48 PM

SteveCornett circleUSDA’s current animal traceability proposal seems to have found a friendlier reception than the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) program the Obama administration euthanized last year.

Both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association—two outfits that don’t agree on much—have expressed gratitude to the agency for taking their concerns into consideration. Both promise fine-tooth combings of the proposal, but, as of press time, neither had expressed serious problems. In fact, both groups expect to file comments supportive of just about everything in the proposal except the inclusion of feeder cattle.

R-CALF USA and fellow maverick groups are opposed. R-CALF doesn’t think it gives hot iron brands enough respect, apparently. Those against commercial agriculture don’t like the idea of a government requirement that might impose some level of professionalism on part-time operators.

A month after the proposal was published, only one comment had been submitted and it was definitely not supportive. But producers and others have until Nov. 9 to submit their own comments, and it was a rural uprising that led to the demise of the last program.

What’s inside. The proposal would initially require an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection and individual ear tags or group ID on intact and breeding cattle being shipped across state lines to anything but slaughter facilities. Steers and heifers would be added later. USDA would expect states to develop programs that would provide traceability to animals shipped into or out of the state.

While the main cattle groups may support the idea, it is a bitter pill for the Willie Nelson wing of the farm lobby. Some 49 organizations—mostly the same ones that last year opposed extending the comment period for the controversial GIPSA rule—sent USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter asking that the comment period be extended beyond Nov. 9.

R-CALF’s concern is that state-authorized brands are not automatically recognized as sufficient, even though the proposal would allow states to make their own agreements to recognize brands. Otherwise, cattle would need individual ear tags—electronic or not—with individual numbers.

USDA says the program is necessary because brucellosis vaccination tags are not as numerous as they once were, creating a problem for the agency in finding origins and exposures of sick animals. The theory is that if it is easier to trace sick cattle, it will mitigate exposure and damages. That’s a pretty good reason.

But the bigger benefit to cattle producers (even reluctant ones) will be that as traceability becomes common, everybody down the line will realize they can know more about where their beef came from. This should make it possible for phobic consumers to avoid beef from cattle older than 30 months of age if they choose, and give retailers the ability to tell customers if their beef was raised locally. That’s the stuff that will add more value to cattle. With the prices we expect to charge when the cycle tops, we’ll need all the value we can get.

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