How does the beef industry know which issues are critical?

Troy Marshall

February 19, 2015

3 Min Read
How does the beef industry know which issues are critical?

Last week, Canada reported its first case of BSE since 2011. The surveillance protocols worked and the animal never entered the food supply. In fact, perhaps the most vitally important aspect regarding the Canadian disclosure was the reaction of the market, which was minimal. The new BSE case, Canada’s 19th, likely won’t change Canada’s ranking by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as a controlled BSE risk country.

With the passage of time, a better understanding of the disease and firewalls in place, that’s to be expected. Whenever there is something new and unfamiliar, the reaction tends to be hugely overstated. Over time, however, that panic is replaced by understanding, and the reaction becomes more reasonable. Canada had gone three years without a positive case, and the market understands that the likelihood of additional cases is declining with each moment, as those at-risk cows grow older.

It isn’t necessarily a condition of the markets to overreact to new negative elements, but it is human nature. We saw a similar scenario in the seedstock industry with the discovery of the first genetic defects. The revelations resulted in draconian policies and millions of dollars in losses, some of which producers are still feeling today.

But after the initial panic subsided, policies became more science-based and customers more educated on the topic. In fact, a producer remarked to be the other day that he doesn’t think there’s anything safer today than buying a genetic defect carrier bull. His thinking is that you are aware of the problem you have and, if not already present, it will largely be eliminated over time.

Of course, the flip side of overreaction is to downplay or totally ignore the threat, which can carry some significant penalties in the long run. Animal welfare is a good example of this, as it’s one of those issues whose importance didn’t register with cattlemen at the beginning.

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We tended to operate in our own bubble in those days. We knew we took good care of our animals, and so we discounted the activists as lunatics, which made it easy to ignore them. Yet, today, the topic of animal welfare is as significant in most producers’ minds as nutrition or environmental concerns.

Sustainability is another such issue. Here again, sustainability is an issue that most producers have traditionally considered a strength. After all, beef producers utilize cattle to harvest grass and convert it to a high-quality food, while caring for the land in the process.

Unfortunately, depending on just who and what special interest you talk to, sustainability can be defined different ways. And many folks – including those allied against meat production – are working to define sustainability in a way that will further their ends. So, while we, as managers and caretakers of the land and animals, may think we have a handle on sustainability, it’s an issue that is very likely to have a big impact on our industry.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of and the Penton Agriculture Group.


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