The concept of traceability has been a hot-button topic for a long time, but somehow it's gotten tangled up in the BSE issue. ID's proponents see themselves as vindicated about ID's necessity, while opponents view it as just another USDA-led initiative that doesn't consider the needs of producers.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks, and the possibility of bio-terrorism attacks in the U.S., increased government's desire for traceability. The problem is that, in the process of considering traceability in this light, most folks in the industry missed the real impetus behind traceability — the marketplace.
The demand for source- and age-verified cattle is growing at a phenomenal rate both domestically and globally. The driver behind traceability is, and always will be, the marketplace. Being sidetracked by the food-safety and animal-health aspects, we've failed to embrace the desires of the marketplace.
If we'd focused on our customers, it's unlikely we'd find ourselves in the position of not only trailing nearly every beef-producing country in the world, but at risk of being uncompetitive in a large part of the global market.
The interminable delay in getting Asian markets open should have given us ample time to move forward. Instead, we squandered it.
The question shouldn't be whether the government timeline for ID implementation is too aggressive. It should be about how we can get a system implemented more quickly.
Canada has regained a much higher portion than the U.S. of its lost markets, but the message has been lost on U.S. cattlemen. The issue of traceability — source, age or process verification — isn't about governments, trade, food safety or animal health. It's about responding to the marketplace.
Troy Marshall is a contributing editor of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly.