Cattle industry explores feasibility of traceability on national scale
When a coalition of beef industry stakeholders developed the Beef Industry Long Range Plan 2016-20, a core strategy and strategic initiative around animal traceability systems was developed, with the intent of addressing disease outbreak concerns and enhancing trust from consumers both domestically and globally.
“Out of that initiative, of critical and immediate need was a feasibility study to help the industry identify and understand economic opportunities, as well as what is inherent in the question of animal ID and traceability for the U.S. beef cattle industry,” said Dave Gregg of World Perspectives, Inc. (WPI), the company contracted to conduct the feasibility study. “We started from square one, collaborating with a project steering committee and making an attempt to reset the discussion around animal ID and traceability.”
Gregg noted it was important for World Perspectives, Inc. to avoid assumptions and misperceptions about traceability and help to frame industry discussions moving forward.
He commented, “We hope, with this study, the beef cattle industry can look at where we are with animal ID and traceability now, ask where could we go and begin to address the questions why and how.”
Gregg overviewed the WPI feasibility study during an early April webinar, held as part of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattlemen’s Webinar Series.
A publicly available report from WPI summarizes the key points in a conversation about traceability, while also reviewing important definitions and a global viewpoint.
“Nowhere in this report did our team recommend a simple approach to solving this problem,” Gregg said.
The team started by defining traceability as “an information trail that documents a product’s physical trail.” Additionally, they defined national significance as the percentage of adopters for the program to be nationally significant and economically efficient.
“Somewhere between 45 and 90 percent adoption in traceability would be nationally significant,” Gregg said. “If we take the midpoint of that, we have 68 percent, which is what we used as our goal for the percentage of the herd to have traceability back to the ranch.”
In the U.S. WPI conducted 90-plus interviews with cow/calf producers, auction markets, feeders, packers and more, as well as a quantitative phone survey of over 600 people, primarily cow/calf producers.
“The key in taking the sum of our research and findings is that the conversation about traceability is an evolving discussion,” Gregg commented. “Even in our one-on-one discussions with folks who are skeptical, it became clear that there is a recognition that the issue should be addressed in some fashion.”
In looking at the results from cow/calf producers, Gregg summarized that only 22 percent of respondents said they currently utilize a voluntary traceability system. While it’s not a perfect trend, he also noted that use of a traceability system increases with herd size.
People utilize their systems as a way to add value for cattle.
“Folks are also investing in this as a tool to manage their herds and increase the quality based on the data they get,” he said. “There is also 20 percent recognition in the usefulness of this tool for animal disease outbreaks.”
Other general comments about why an animal ID and traceability system is used fall into value, return or quality control categories.
Additionally, when asked if people would support or oppose integration of their current system into a nationally significant traceability, the majority of producers neither strongly supported or strongly opposed the idea.
“That further supports the idea this is an evolving discussion and something the industry is interested in learning about and having discussions about,” Gregg said. “There certainly is a core group of folks who are ‘on the fence.’ That tone flowed throughout our findings.”
When looking inside a traceability system, respondents were asked about their level of acceptance for premise, ranch-of-origin and point of slaughter ID.
There was largely strong support for ranch-of-origin ID, with over 50 percent of respondents being in favor or strongly in favor of the concept.
“We asked people about premise ID, and there wasn’t as strong of support,” Gregg explained. “Premise ID is often concerning, based on the fact that we have operations that may move across significant distances without a change of ownership. Premise ID and movement to a new premise becomes an issue.”
Point of slaughter ID, with birth premise data from each animal recorded, is commonly known as a “book-end” system.
“This system is similar to what Canada has, and it is fairly well supported, as well,” he said.
Use of radio frequency ID (RFID) tags as the primary tool for capturing the data garnered a wide variety of responses ranging from strong opposition to strong support.
Easily retrievable information garnered similar responses.
“Information made available to government entities only in the event of an animal disease outbreak saw strong support,” Gregg said. “When we bring government into this, we identified concern among a lot of folks in the industry, but there’s also recognition that to have an effective animal ID or traceability system in the U.S., government has to be part of it, whether as an oversight body or if it is made available for disease outbreak.”
Look for more information on traceability systems and the feasibility study in upcoming editions of the Roundup.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.