Lack of ID system could cost $13.2 billion annually

May 1, 2009
by DTN
Lack of ID system could cost $13.2 billion annually

The U.S. beef industry could lose $13.2 billion a year in market access overseas if a more robust livestock tracking system is not adopted, a study released by the Agriculture Department said last Wednesday.

The report, written by university researchers, said the international market expects exporters to have animal identification and tracing systems. Despite being one of the world’s largest beef exporters, the U.S. trails competitors like Canada and Australia in implementing a plan. A failure to adopt a full traceability system would lead to a reduction in export market access over time, even without a major market or animal disease outbreak, the study determined.

“We need to be make sure that people around the country are aware of the risks we run with the current system,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has vowed to improve the tracking system after a five-year effort and millions of dollars have yielded minimal results.

“I think given the current state of events, we’re seeing how fragile markets are and how they can be impacted and affected,” he said. Vilsack was referring to the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu that has sickened 91 people, with one fatality, in the U.S. It also has been found in Mexico, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and New Zealand.

The outbreak has prompted several countries to ban U.S. pork, even though health officials have said consumers could not contract the virus by eating the meat. The goal of the voluntary identification program is to locate the home farm and herdmates of sick animals within 48 hours of an animal disease outbreak. Only about 510,000 premises have been registered out of 1.4 million premises USDA wants to sign up. The 400-page study, which was completed by researchers at Kansas State University and other institutions, estimated the total cost to implement the tracking system in the cattle sector would be about $176 million per year, assuming 90 percent of the industry was participating.

The cattle industry represents about 92 percent of the total cost of the system because it has the highest infrastructure demands, such as for tagging.

The average cost per animal marketed was $5.97 for cattle, $0.059 for swine and $1.39 for sheep. For poultry, the study said the average cost per animal is $0.0195 for layers, $0.0007 for broilers, and $0.0020 for turkeys.

The government embraced a livestock tracking system as a response to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in December 2003. Critics, including some members of Congress, say the program, which has cost $130 million, is not working.

Several key lawmakers are threatening to withhold any more money from a voluntary system, insisting the livestock industry is no safer now from the spread of mad cow and other diseases. They have pushed for a mandatory system.

Cattle groups have opposed a mandatory program. Among their chief concerns are cost, the type of technology being used, and whether sensitive information will be kept confidential. — DTN