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Animal ID traceability: Expensive, but worth the risk?

Progressive Cattleman Associate Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 16 March 2018
Animal ID traceability illustration

The subject of animal traceability has been bouncing from boardroom to courtroom to corral for years. The global and domestic demand for traceability has highlighted the need for a nationwide animal ID traceability system.

In response to the growing interest in animal traceability, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association commissioned a feasibility study of how implementing an animal ID traceability system would affect the U.S. beef industry.

They hired Washington, D.C.-based ag analysis and consulting firm World Perspectives Inc. (WPI) to carry out the study. They collected 600 surveys, conducted 90 interviews with industry members from all sectors, held 23 discussions with state cattle and beef associations, reviewed and analyzed 20 different academic/government studies and 15 years’ worth of data for demand modeling and economic projections, and reviewed nine different animal traceability systems already in place around the world.

WPI focused on what a nationally implemented animal traceability system would mean for the U.S. beef industry.

According to the report, the majority of the cow-calf sector of the industry is cautiously supportive of animal traceability. WPI reported only 9 to 10 percent of U.S. cow-calf producers currently participate in voluntary traceability programs, usually in return for some added value in the market. The report also noted a majority of larger operations (1,000-plus head) are already practicing some form of animal ID/traceability program.

WPI concluded the cost of implementing an animal traceability program would reach around $386 million, and should the U.S. implement a program, the cow-calf sector would bear almost 60 percent of the expense. While the labor and facilities costs would not change dramatically, the cost of distributing RFID tags to each animal, the necessary scanning equipment and, most especially, administrative costs would be the highest costs the change would incur.

Higher marketability is the biggest draw of an animal traceability system. Currently, the only major import market that requires traceability is China but, with a widening global market and the availability of advanced technology, that is bound to change. According to the report, “Key U.S. export markets have domestic traceability requirements, and it is important for the U.S. to be aware these countries or major customers in these countries could decide to extend this requirement to imports.”

While higher marketability is a big draw, producers are going to benefit from more of the projected advantages of a traceability system, like quicker detection and control of an animal disease outbreak, increased management efficiency throughout all of the industry sectors and a smooth transition to the global traceability program, before they are likely to make the change.

“Increased marketability does not always lead to increased profitability,” says one Western cattle dealer quoted in the report. “If the time and monetary costs of being involved in an expanded [traceability] program outweigh the marketability increase, producers will be reluctant to change.”  end mark

Access the full NCBA feasibility report here  (Comprehensive feasibility study: U.S. beef cattle identification and traceability systems).

Carrie Veselka
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PHOTO: Illustration by Kevin Brown.