We were branding calves last weekend and I was visiting with one of the neighbors helping us. Of course, we talked about how dry it is in eastern Oregon, the price of calves, how good the calves looked, etc. But, in the midst of all of these often talked about topics, the conversation shifted to animal identification and he made the comment that it was interesting that cattle identification had not really come as far as one might expect.
On Tuesday, only four days after my conversation in the branding pen, I read with interest that U.S. beef interests have signed on to a traceability system so we can export beef to China. Now, this is déjà vu! It was just over 11 years ago when a cow with mad cow disease was discovered in the state of Washington and National Animal Identification became the hot topic in the industry. After all, it was an issue concerning disease containment. Human health was involved. But, at the end of the day, mad cow disease did not reach crisis proportions. Is anyone surprised? But, Japan would only import U.S. beef under 21 months of age and those cattle had to be age and source verified by a USDA approved program – period. Thus, the bureaucracy of cattle identification was born.
I was a partner in a USDA processed verified company providing age and source verification certification for cattlemen who wanted an opportunity to capture premiums paid for certified cattle for export to Japan when they had age restrictions in place. When Japan raised the age requirement to 30 months of age, the premium disappeared. Many ranchers continued to use the program while many decided it was no longer necessary since there were no longer premiums.
While animal identification seems pretty straight-forward, it is one of those topics that can generate lots of opinions regarding why and how. I sat in on many meetings that the conversation seemed to always be the same from one meeting to the next. After all, we have had cattle identification in this country for over 100 years. It’s called branding. Unfortunately, brand laws don’t cover every state.
Source verification seems to have quite a bit of momentum in the market. It is the basis for any other claim, i.e. natural, organic, etc. and the incentive to implement any program at the ranch will always be the market.