ID a smart move

Aug 12, 2011

Any proposed National Animal Identification System has been a contentious issue in the past. Now it looks as if it is going to be a condition of trade soon. Last week, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) kicked out its proposed rule for Animal Disease Traceability, or what some might call mandatory animal identification (ID). This time the politics shouldn’t be as bad as they were when USDA attempted a voluntary system that was eventually abandoned.

The states, tribes and USDA have been quietly working on this new ID plan for quite awhile, and it looks like this plan will go through the system with few objections from cattlemen. The hot iron brand is safely tucked away in the system for those who prefer that method of protecting their property rights. In the West, hot iron branding is a rite of passage, a tradition that would have social ramifications if it were abandoned. Some cowboys would go crazy if they couldn’t rope and brand.

Ironically, the folks who have put this plan together made every effort to keep the program simple and use existing systems to accomplish the goal of a 48-hour trace-back. USDA already has adequate tracing systems for other livestock and said the cattle industry needs a more comprehensive system to achieve the goal.

It was only a matter of time before this mandatory ID system became a reality. State vets and producer working groups have been at this for a long time and have included everyone in the debate. It’s another regulation, but from where I sit, it’s simply going to codify what the states are already doing and produce a better tool for disease trace-back.

If you’re concerned about the cost, I suggest you consider the impacts of not having a national system. We’re enjoying good cattle markets now and all you need to remember is the BSE incident during the Christmas of 2003 and what that did to the markets, or imagine the impact of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak if we couldn’t trace animals rapidly. Comprehensive animal trace-back could allow USDA to regionalize any disease outbreak instead of shutting down the entire country’s livestock industry.

Many progressive cattlemen are already source verifying their cattle and enjoying a premium for doing so. Those traceability efforts will now become the norm and the market will recognize it as such. Yes, it will add some cost to livestock production and be annoying to some. However, with a 500-pound calf fetching $750 to $850, I think it’s a cost that producers and the industry can afford. When you realize the cost a disease outbreak can have on the overall market, it’s also good insurance. The program appears to have a lot of flexibility and if you don’t ship cattle out of state, it won’t be much of an issue at all.

The rule says it will have minimum requirements. According to USDA’s proposal, livestock moved over state lines will have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.

There appears to be a lot of cooperation in this effort between the states, tribes, producer groups and APHIS, and all the tools are, for the most part, in place. So this shouldn’t be an overbearing issue. National animal health issues have always had good cooperation across the cattle industry. For instance, brucellosis has, for the most part, been eradicated in the U.S., as has FMD. This will be a good offensive effort to maintain the health and marketability of U.S. cattle and beef which may give consumers at home and abroad more confidence about U.S. beef.

The markets have already done a good job filling the demand for source-verified cattle. This program will close the gap on the premiums that source-verified cattle have enjoyed. Unfortunately for some, it appears the premium price will disappear when source verification becomes the norm. However, it will add to the global marketability for U.S. beef. The past two years have shown us just how important export markets are. Real, sustainable growth will come from increased export trade. Now we just need some feed to expand the cow herd and fulfill global demand for beef. — PETE CROW