U.S. animal ID plan affects exports

Mar 5, 2010
by DTN

The scrapping of the national animal identification (ID) system in the U.S. simply means that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recognizes that some things can be better handled on a state-by-state—not national—basis, according to U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President Phil Seng.

“He is also recognizing that it is better for the individual states to do it,” Seng told DTN at a March 1 press conference in Tokyo.

USDA’s decision not to enforce a national ID system will, of course, restrict potential sales to Japan, said Takamichi Tawara, the managing director of the Tokyo-based Tyson International Service Center.

However, Tawara told DTN this still will not have a big impact on the U.S. beef industry because it produces mostly for the domestic market, not for export.

Approximately 8 percent of total U.S. beef production is exported, said DTN Livestock Analyst John Harrington. That figure was closer to 10 percent in 2003, he said, before the bovine spongiform encephalopathy scare prompted Japan to put age and other restrictions on U.S. beef.

The U.S. only exports to Japan meat from cattle 20 months old and younger, with all specified risk materials removed. U.S. exporters are limited by the difficulty in sourcing ageverified beef. Harrington said U.S. packers do have sourcing and tracing problems and could sell more beef if identification was better, but he doubts the state-by-state method will accomplish that.

Although “traceability” is all the rage in Japanese stores and supermarkets, with consumers using scanners at meat cases to identify what farmer produced their beef, Tawara said consumers here do not know what traceability really is.

“They just follow the government when it tells them whether a product is safe,” he said.

Seng said companies exporting to Japan do have a traceability system. “Any consumer who wants to verify origin can do that at this point in time,” he said.

The USMEF website says the U.S. owns 20 percent of the Japanese beef market, and Japan will always be a destination for the “finest cuts of U.S. pork and beef.” — DTN