After the outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in Great Britain in 2001, discussion of an animal I.D. plan began in the United States. The goal was to have a program in place that would allow a 48 hour trace back to any geographic stops a diseased animal made as it moved through the production system and to ultimately be able to locate the farm or ranch where the animal’s journey originated. In March, Congress held hearings asking how effective the current voluntary program was working with only about a third of producers participating, and speculated as to whether or not it should be mandatory. The debate continues, as Joe Brown tells us in this week’s From The Ground Up.
"Animal I.D. doesn’t prevent a disease outbreak from happening, it just it just let’s you try and get your arms around it."
David Andersen is with Texas Agrilife Extension and says when animal I.D was proposed, there were a lot of unanswered questions, including who could access the data base, and even more importantly, who would own it?
"There are people who don’t want to comply with that. They see confidentiality issues among the data, they don’t want to see the costs imposed on them."
Pete Scarmardo is a local rancher and cattle buyer.
"You’re either going to have to pay people to do it, where it’s profitable to them and make them tag their cattle, or either it’ll have to be mandatory where they have to do it."
Scarmardo says in the past there has been a market that would pay top dollar for products with a documented history, but economic problems worldwide have lessened that demand.
"We’re exporting a lot of beef, but we’re having a little more trouble with some of the choice products, and those are the people that are paying extra to have our product age and source verified. Because of the uncertainties in our world markets, it makes our packers in this country be a little more reluctant to go out and give a set premium for those cattle for months out in advance."
And that market, even when it’s there, isn’t big enough to benefit small producers.
"We work approximately 70 sales a week all across Louisiana and Texas and we see a very small per cent of individually I.D.’d calves. If you do sell those and you just sell them one or two at a time, you’re not going to get any kind of premium."
"To implement a program like this you know there’s costs, and it’s going to be a big ole bill, but the benefits are uncertain. You gotta have a disease outbreak to get the benefit of it."
And the biggest unanswered question is who will pay for the program? History suggests it will be the beef producer. I’m Joe Brown, looking at Brazos Valley Agriculture, from The Ground Up.