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Analyst: National livestock ID program hits few snags
Ohio Correspondent

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Develop-ment of a nationwide cattle identification program is underway, but has hit a few snags, said Glynn T. Tonsor of Kansas State University.

Tonsor, in a presentation at the Great Lakes Professional Cattle Feeding and Marketing Short Course last week, borrowed a quote from the USDA, which defines identification programs as “record-keeping systems designed to track the flow of product and product attributes through the production process or supply chain.”

He said the economic incentives for an ID program are the ability to track animal health; allay food safety concerns, both foreign and domestic; verify specific animal attributes; properly assign liability; improve management, both on the farm and through the supply chain; and help control the risk of bioterrorism.

The original target date for starting a national program was three years from now. The timeline planned for all states to have an idea for a system in place by July 2005 and a number system operational. However, he said not all states have met that deadline.

By April 2007, he said registration and “alerts” are to be in place to warn producers of the system requirements and deadlines.

By January 2008, the registration and animal identification would be required.

And by January 2009, the reporting of cattle movements would be required and the system would be in place.

However, he said “a serious hiccup occurs.” A group of lawyers in Washington D.C. have put the target date on hold because they claim it’s illegal for the USDA to force states to reveal ownership of transacted cattle.

He said another option might be to allow each state to set up its own ID system, but he didn’t recommend it.

“That encourages there to be multiple systems in place,” he said. “(If that happens) the system as a whole is going to be less effective than if it was a national program.”

However, he said beginning the program in some states as a test project might be a good idea. For example, Michigan is ready to implement its program in early 2007.

“That’s not quite two years ahead of the national target date,” he said.

Along the same lines, Tonsor said a voluntary system probably wouldn’t work. It would result in beef being sold through two different markets – identified beef and unidentified beef, which confuses the consumer and reduces industry credibility.

He said the industry must understand what consumers are looking for in the beef they buy.

In the second part of his presentation, Tonsor shared information he gathered on two trips to Australia to study that country’s ID system. He spent two weeks on the eastern seaboard of Australia during the past two summers.

In Australia, he said the cattle industry is similar to the United States because of its diversity.

“Production is different in Florida than it is in Montana, for instance,” he said.

In Australia, production is different in Victoria than it is in Queensland.

“They export roughly two-thirds of their production,” he said. The main market is Japan.

The rise in Australian exports to Japan during the ban on U.S. beef is going to make it more difficult for the U.S. to gain back its market share in Japan – partially because Australia has an ID system in place.

“The Australians are definitely benefiting from having a system in place,” he said. Tonsor suggested U.S. producers follow suit.

“We need to either do what the market wants or quit wasting time and effort pretending we’re going to and get out of the international market,” he said.

“Identification could go a long way toward improving the quality,” he said.

He said the technology is available to trace meat all the way from birth to market shelf. An ID program would “clean up” the industry as a whole, he said, resulting in a more uniform product.

“I’m optimistic about this process as a whole,” he said. “I think the benefits outweigh the costs in the long run.”