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The old and the new re-emerge on traceability

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 23 March 2018

Good ideas don’t always take root the first time around. Nowhere is this truer than with the returning debate over traceability and animal ID in the beef industry.

Launched by a new study commissioned by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and conducted by World Perspectives Inc., the topic has been resurrected and fueled in large part by steady growth in U.S. beef exports. (Animal ID traceability: Expensive, but worth the risk?)

So does this new study and push from the industry have new ideas and momentum? Yes and no.

Global market demands, competing traceability systems in other countries and the dread of another herd health crisis like BSE are still the biggest factors in favor of a reliable national ID system.

And the new study throws in plentiful research and analysis done in the past nine years that give viable reasons to make another try at traceability.

But the obstacles that existed with the first attempt haven’t changed at all. The cost is still a burr under the saddle for producers. And privacy concerns in this era of Big Data have only grown thornier.

Those concerns are nothing new. So what are the new details that could bring us closer to a U.S. traceability system?

Producers support data used correctly

A wide majority of respondents (62 percent) show strong support that traceability data should be used in the event of a disease outbreak. This sentiment reflects some growing trust on how the government would use the info, and it can protect the entire beef industry.

State associations recognize the need

They don’t like how the issue is stalling at the national level and want solutions to happen. They just don’t want “more of the same.” They have a good grasp of helping a diverse membership and can play a key role in communicating the need for a system.

Consolidation may be helping the effort

The larger the operation, the greater participation in voluntary traceability programs, since they’re more adept at capturing the premiums attached to animal ID.

Cow-calf producers still hold the cards

Whether the U.S. moves into a voluntary traceability system will largely be dictated by how cow-calf producers accept it. Although a system will inflict costs on stockers and feeders, it pales in comparison to those that would be carried by the cow-calf segment.

The markets could help pay for it

Studies cited in the report said, “Comparatively small changes in export and/or domestic beef demand can easily pay for implementation.” One prediction said a 34 percent increase in beef exports would pay a 90 percent adoption rate for ID and traceability in the U.S. Reports also show foreign customers are willing to pay more for traceable beef, and U.S. buyers may have more confidence in the product to fuel additional demand.

The report is just the beginning, and that’s a good thing. The returning debate shows yet again traceability is necessary and long overdue.  end mark

David Cooper
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