South Dakota Governor signs beef marketing law

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 14, 2005
by WLJ
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds hopes people across the nation and around the world will soon walk into grocery stores and choose to pay more for steaks that carry his state's seal of approval.
When they take those steaks home, they can visit an Internet site and use codes on the labels to find out where the meat came from, even the ranch where a calf was born. Electronic records will track the critters from birth, through feedlots and to meatpacking plants.
"We believe consumers will step forward and they will be paying premium prices for this premium product," Rounds said Tuesday.
A week after the Legislature passed a bill to start the South Dakota Certified Beef Program, the governor signed the measure into law. The program is the result of an idea Rounds first suggested when he campaigned for governor in 2002.
Various businesses and organizations have promoted high quality beef, but South Dakota officials said the state program marks the first time a government has put its seal of approval on beef products.
Only meat from South Dakota cattle that are tracked electronically and raised according to certain standards will qualify for an official state trademark or seal, which features an image of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and declares "The World's Best Beef."
The purpose of the branded-beef program is to improve cattle prices for South Dakota farmers and ranchers by assuring customers that steaks, roasts and hamburger are of the highest quality and safety.
A few years ago, Congress passed a law requiring that meat be labeled according to its country of origin, but the law has never been implemented. After the discovery of BSE in a few cattle from Canada, consumers will demand more information about how and where meat is produced, South Dakota officials believe.
"We're going beyond country of origin labeling here. We're going right down to the producer who raised that calf," Rounds said Tuesday.
Dwight Scott of Letcher, the first farmer to register for the branded-beef program, said he now signs affidavits assuring buyers his cattle have been raised a certain way. The new program will certify those claims and back them up with records, he said.
Cattle in the program must be raised, fed to market weights and slaughtered within South Dakota. Farmers, ranchers and processors who join the program must follow state standards in raising and slaughtering cattle. All cattle in the program will carry electronic identification tags.
Rounds also signed into law a second measure that allows the state to start an identification program that will work in conjunction with the South Dakota Certified Beef program and also be used to help stop the spread of livestock diseases.
Farmers and ranchers who voluntarily enroll in the Certified Beef program will pay licensing fees, which will be used to finance marketing efforts and monitoring of the livestock.
Enrollees will be required to follow state standards in raising their cattle. They must keep careful records that the state can check to ensure adherence to the program.
The program initially will market premium beef products, but it eventually will distribute natural beef products from cattle raised without certain hormones or drugs. Rounds said the natural beef products could sell particularly well in Europe.
South Dakota has long claimed its beef is as good and as safe as any produced elsewhere in the world, the governor said.
"We not only will brag about it, but we're going to prove to consumers out there that what we're talking about is reality today," he said.
State Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel said the beef branding program should improve agricultural income in South Dakota by switching farmers and ranchers away from producing a raw commodity to selling a branded product, Gabriel said. He has said for years that far too many cattle born in South Dakota are sent to other states to be fed and processed.
"I think this is a big step in revolutionizing the way we market our products," said Gabriel, who also raises cattle on a ranch in western South Dakota.
The program should increase the number of calves born in South Dakota and the number of cattle fed and slaughtered in the state, officials said.
Gabriel, who was preparing Tuesday to leave for a nine-day agricultural trade mission to Japan and South Korea, said 850 farmers and ranchers have expressed interest in the branded-beef program.
Emergency rules for the program should be done in a few weeks, he said.
Don Ward, owner of Bad River Pack, a small meatpacking plant in Fort Pierre, believes the branded-beef effort is a chance to sell quality beef products across the nation and in other countries.
"I don't know how large a premium we'll be able to demand," Ward said. "I do know people are willing to pay for quality in most markets."