THE CASE FOR NATIONAL ID FOR CATTLE

 9/1/17

With the many problems existing in the livestock business, many producers find designing and implementing an ID program for the national herd something that falls well down the priority lists. The U.S has fallen behind Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and most of South America in the required identification of their national herds. The U.S. sells less beef globally because it lacks a national ID program. Inaction on our part of the domestic cattle industry costs U.S. producers hundreds of millions of dollars annually of improved pricing to our national cattle herd and improved production efficiencies at all levels crossing all sectors.

Identifying the animals in the nation's herd with an internationally recognized number hosted in an national database is the beginning and the foundation for resolving the obstacles preventing the world’s recognition of our proper place as the world’s leading producer of quality beef. The rationale for animal identification is unassailable and specifically includes:

Consumer confidence. Some consumers want to know to know more about where their food originates and how it is produced. The disconnect between consumer's and beef producers has long existed with processors and retailers in the middle and unable to connect the two. ID provides an important link back to the producer and serves as a precursor of a linked bar code on beef packaging on the meat counter.  

Traceback. U.S. health officials have long desired ID to have immediate and timely traceback for disease outbreaks. The ability of the industry to respond to this need and to stop a disease outbreak in its tracks can be invaluable to industry stability and consumer confidence. Identifying only parts of the national herd would result in a total lack of confidence and the potential for an embarrassing public relations disaster when an unidentified animal is diseased and lacks traceback pathways.

Data Store. The national datastore can allow a treasure of information to mine for use in the industry. Data queries will provide instant and real-time data on such important statistic as:

·      Daily, weekly and monthly slaughter facts including fed cattle and cows.

·      Final carcass date including grading, the final weights and prices of each animal.

·      Cattle on feed as well as daily placements and marketing numbers.

·      Slaughter by region.

All this information would be available to all industry participants without compromising privacy or proprietary information. The National Datastore would be managed and governed by elected industry representatives from all sectors of the industry.

Benchmarking. No tool is more important to the industry than benchmarking or the ability to measure each producer's production performance against other beef producers. The list of benchmarking targets is endless running from rate of gain on pasture to calf weaning weights to feedyard performance. Death loss rates will be available as well as heath records to track this troublesome area of production. Queries can be regionalized to allow each producer to compare to other producers in the same area.

Animal title. Every producer borrowing money to finance cattle is paying a little more in the interest rate because the banker must rely on an arcane financing system that does not always deliver a dependable security lien interest in the cattle. Millions of dollars are spent annually in litigation as lenders argue with each other over cattle title and the various filing and title conveyance issues from each state. Individual ID would eliminate this concern and each animal and transaction of purchase or sale would properly record and transfer the title and acknowledge the lender.

Theft. Animal ID would eliminate theft. Producers have argued forever, that the RFID tags can be cut out and they can. This, however, will not allow a thief the opportunity to market the animal without a ID tag. Lost tags will require rigorous proof of purchase and cross referencing to the specific provenance of each animal – a requirement few thieves are willing or able to produce. Back-up identifiers will be tested such as tattoos, indelible ink, ear notches and other biometric genetic markers.

Brands. Brands have a large tradition in beef production. They represent a valid visual identifier for many operations. National ID will not discontinue this practice but instead will focus attention on the cost of a brand to the hide value and its location on the animal.

IMPROVING THE NATION’S COW HERD.  Animal ID would allow detailed records on each cow to be linked to records on all calves.    With cow records showing progeny performance and carcass merit, better decisions could be made on culling and heifer retention, improving the nations cow herd.  In Purebred Herds, animal ID would allow purebred producers to access a tremendously increased amount of data to improve EPD accuracy, as well.    Progressive purebred herds could give discounts to buyers of their bulls who match DNA to ID and allow access to individual production and carcass data.

THE MECHANICS AND COST OF ANIMAL ID. The cost of a RFID ear tag is available in the U.S. for $1.50-$2.00 and from China for less than $1. Readers come as cheap as $75. Software programs to interface data into database format are available for free.

Some will want third parties to ID their herd but most will find it easy to use free software programs for reading and transferring the data over the web and archiving for their own personal use. These costs provide paybacks on such a large scale as to compel the most dedicated luddite into action.

PRIVACY AND GOVERNANCE. The national datastore must protect the privacy rights of beef producers at every level. A proposed plan would establish a governance board comprised on industry participants from each sector of the business. Permission levels would exist at each level of production granting data viewing according to sharing arrangements among those owning the data and all permissions would be tightly controlled according to rules set by the governing board.  

THE FUTURE. While required ID of animals in the national herd is the foundation and the start for the industry, the story doesn't stop there. New technologies are developing and will soon be available such as: 1) GPS locaters allowing the construction of a digital fence around any property. Tags will improve to carry location information on the animal as well as health data back to the owners in close to real time. Smart apps will alert [with email or text] when cattle breech the digital fence. 2) Active RFID tags to alert the owner when an animal is sick. 3) RFID tags can carry with them important data on birth date and birth premise as well as other data. 4) apps on smart phones to allow the ID chip to be read and data stored.

Blockchains are transforming all commerce and agriculture will be no exception. A national ID animal program will set the stage for smart contracts to identify groups of cattle for electronic settlement and clearing activities associated with purchase and sales transactions. Blockchains also will provide price points in real time that can be used for reporting cash prices in close to real time. These price points for purchases and sales can also be instrumental in settling futures contract for cattle.