NCBA on Animal ID - Voluntary, Private and Market-Driven
DENVER - I am often asked where NCBA stands on animal identification, and sometimes by people who have heard our position badly misrepresented. I appreciate the opportunity to come directly to you with the straight-forward facts about our cattle-producer members’ position, and the actions we have taken to fulfill their expectations.
It all begins with a core philosophy. No matter the issue, NCBA members believe we need to limit government interference and control in the cattle business. We have seen the failures of government involvement in agriculture, and cattlemen have chosen a different course. We believe in the entrepreneurial tradition of the ranchers and farmers that came before us, and we believe success comes from our ability to make our own decisions about how we market our cattle and manage our resources. So it makes sense that NCBA would favor a market-driven animal identification program, rather than government control.
It also stands to reason that NCBA would favor a privately-held, producer-driven animal movement database rather than a government-run database. NCBA members want a system that operates at minimal cost and protects producer confidentiality. We feel that a government database cannot sufficiently protect producer data, and it is likely to grow into a large bureaucracy complete with red tape and unnecessary expense to our operations. So a private solution is better for cattlemen, while still providing the government with the information it requires in the event of an animal health emergency.
NCBA members sent a clear directive that an industry-led, animal movement database should be managed by an independent, non-profit entity. So the United States Animal Identification Organization (USAIO) was created. USAIO is a non-profit entity made up of livestock producers. NCBA holds only one of five current seats on the USAIO board of directors, and this board is expected to grow as other agricultural organizations decide to join.
USAIO’s mission is to securely protect the integrity and continuity of the U.S. livestock industry by managing a national animal movement database. This database will record an animal’s ID number, premise and movement data, to be used only for the purposes of animal disease tracking when necessary. Producers will always own the data, and will never lose control over its use.
No organization can profit from this animal movement database. There is simply no financial gain whatsoever for NCBA in this endeavor. NCBA is strongest when cattlemen are profitable and have full access to commerce and trade. Our motive is profit for our members, not for the association.
The USAIO database costs are estimated at about 30 cents per head for the life of the animal, regardless of the number of transactions, not including the cost of the tag. There’s also plenty of room for competition in the animal identification arena, as many data service providers, tag companies, and other innovators are working every day to build more efficient solutions that will hold these costs down and increase the value of livestock in the marketplace. These providers give small producers competitive footing with large operations, because most of these programs require no technology investment beyond ear tags. This is America, and if we let American enterprise work, we will have several folks who will be providing cost-effective ID solutions to cattlemen.
I hear often from skeptics who don’t really believe that an ID system can add value to livestock. But they are simply ignoring the facts. Large purchasers of beef are already offering premiums for source-verified cattle. Those who market U.S. beef overseas are constantly confronting the argument that Canada, Australia and other beef-exporting countries have a national ID system, but the United States does not. I personally don’t think these other countries’ systems are all they are cracked up to be, and we are pushing for traceability standards that will allow for these systems to be evaluated and verified. But the perception that these countries have moved past us is hard to overcome, and it is hurting our efforts to rebuild international market share, which adds to the value of our livestock.
I don’t think anyone would argue that ID is simply a fact of life to which we must adapt. The question is, will it happen on producers’ terms or the government’s? NCBA strongly believes this can be accomplished on a voluntary basis if we can get an industry-led system up and running, so producers can see for themselves the value this process can deliver. After all, I’m from the Show Me State. I believe concrete results will drive producer participation better than any government program.
Mike John is a cattleman from Huntsville, Missouri, and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.