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Articles from 2004 In July


Beef Checkoff Targets Surging Hispanic Dollar Power

Purchasing power among Hispanics in the U.S. grew at a compound annual rate of 7.5% from 1994-2004, compared to the 2.8% annual growth for total U.S. disposable income, reports the Detroit News.

In fact, Latinos in 2004 are expected to wield nearly $700 billion in buying power in the U.S. That figure is projected to hit $1 trillion by 2010. That kind of surge in purchasing power has everyone from soda makers to beef marketers angling for a piece of the pie.

"Certainly, the beef industry, in general, and the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) and state beef councils, in particular, are aware of the importance of the growing Hispanic market and are addressing those needs, along with the needs and demands of other consumer sectors," says Diane Henderson, communications manager for the CBB, the group charged with administering the national beef checkoff program.

Henderson tells BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly that the checkoff program has produced a variety of "tear pads." These are tablets of two-sided sheets with Spanish educational messages. They are made available to individuals, educators, medical representatives, etc., anyone who would like them, she says. The sheets provide such information as:

  • Nutritional values and information about particular beef cuts.
  • Translation of beef-cut names from English to Spanish to aid in retail or foodservice purchases.
  • Information about infant and child nutrition needs.
  • Information about "pre-teen" or "tween" nutrition and exercise needs and the role played by proteins, including beef.
  • Spanish-language info on nutritional needs of pregnant women.
  • The importance of exercise to a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of proper nutrition.
Henderson adds that also included in this year's checkoff-funded consumer-marketing program is the development of a retail cut chart with Spanish translation, for use by retailers. That mockup will be presented to the CBB in August, she says, with completion targeted for mid September. She adds that the checkoff program also will seek to focus on some national research on the Hispanic market.

Poultry Abuse Tape Hurts All Species, While PETA Wins

The big story of the week was the surreptitious videotaping of chickens being abused by employees of Pilgrim's Pride, a supplier to KFC, at its Moorefield, WV, plant. The video showed sickening, pitiful episodes of chickens being thrown and kicked, tobacco being spit into their mouths and eyes, beaks being torn off, etc.

There's no doubt the activities captured on film released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are simply despicable and wrong. Of course, such abuses lead consumers to question whether the incident is a one-time abhorrent act or something typical of the system.

This type of abuse legitimizes the more extremist elements of the animal rights movement and dramatically increases their political acceptability. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of this incident is that it restores the credibility of a fringe group like PETA.

Over the last 10 months, the overwhelming majority of press coverage of PETA had essentially served to frame the group to consumers as a radical activist group. PETA's poultry abuse videotape, however, helps to paint the group as something more mainstream, and an organization with an honorable and necessary mission.

After the videotape was released, Pilgrim's Pride terminated a total of 11 employees, including one superintendent, one supervisor, one foreman and eight hourly employees, for violating its animal welfare rules. The firm also hired Temple Grandin, the Colorado State University professor famous for her animal handling expertise, to help make sure proper animal handling procedures are in place.

On its Web site, Pilgrim's Pride says its animal welfare program "is designed to eliminate unnecessary harm and suffering for animals in the day-to-day operation of our production processes."

The firm says it:

  • Developed programs that promote generally accepted standards for the welfare and humane treatment of animals,
  • Has implemented the guidelines for animal welfare issued by the major U.S. poultry trade associations,
  • And has a documented training program for all involved in handling live animals.


Grandin has mentioned many times in the pages of BEEF magazine that management is all-important in ensuring that good animal handling is practiced. Not only must a policy be in place, but its tenets must be strongly and consistently presented to underlings. Then, those same managers must be unceasingly vigilant in making sure workers fully exercise that policy.

For its part, KFC says it will audit Pilgrim's Pride plants with more vigor. There's no escaping the fact, however, that all the actions taken by the parties involved were reactionary in nature. After all, it's very difficult to go on the offensive when there is no defense.

Japan May Exempt Cattle from Testing Demand

Yesterday, Japanese government officials said Japan is leaning toward dropping its demand that the U.S. test all its cattle for BSE. A story in today's edition of The Japan Times says cows younger than 20 months will likely be excluded from the testing because existing test methods can't readily detect the disease in young animals, the sources said.
 
Japan banned U.S. beef imports in late December 2003 after discovery of the first U.S. case of BSE. Since then, Japan has demanded the U.S. government test all U.S. cattle at slaughter, or provide equivalent safety assurance, as a condition of reopening its borders to U.S. beef. The U.S. maintains blanket testing is unscientific.
 
The article says that, since 80% of U.S. beef cattle are harvested before 20 months of age, most would be eligible for export, without testing, if Japan excludes cows younger than 20 months from the test. In Europe, cattle younger than 30 months aren't tested because they are considered to represent little risk of infection, the article adds.
 
The 20-month threshold is important to Japan because a case was discovered in a 21-month-old, Japanese cow. "Twenty months would be the age limit to win public understanding for ending blanket testing," the article quotes one government source as saying.
 
A committee of experts from Japan's Food Safety Commission are to meet next Friday to discuss the possible exclusion of young cattle from BSE testing. Based on that committee's conclusion, Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry would then work out specific measures to end blanket testing. If a decision to end to blanket testing can be decided by August's meeting between senior U.S. and Japanese government officials, the Japanese beef ban might soon be resolved, the article says.

Market Psychology And "Inconclusive" BSE Test Results

Late on Friday, June 25, the cattle industry was presented with the situation many had fretted about in regard to the expanded surveillance program for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) that USDA initiated on June 1. Of primary concern was the effect on market psychology should an inconclusive test be discovered. Although further testing using the "gold standard" immunohistochemistry (IHC) test showed the animal did not have BSE, it appears the industry will have to find a way to absorb and digest more announcements of inconclusive BSE tests.

In fact, as this issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly went to press, the industry was awaiting confirmatory IHC testing on a second suspected BSE case.

"Inconclusive tests are a normal component of most screening tests, which are designed to be extremely sensitive," says John Clifford, DVM and deputy administrator for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services. Nor, he adds was the situation unexpected. "They [rapid tests] are designed to cast a very wide net in order to catch any possible animal that may have a condition, which will end up negative during further testing."

USDA posted news of the initial inconclusive test on its Web site at the close of trading on Friday. Whether the timing of the news was purposeful or coincidental, the markets had the weekend as a buffer.

"Some of the initial media reports were misstated, as they often are, saying that another BSE case had been found," says Jim Robb of the Livestock Marketing Information Center (www.lmic.info/). "We saw many of those types of reports in the Denver market and around the country." But on Saturday morning, there seemed to be more balance as the print media coverage used the word "inconclusive" and stated the large potential for false positives, he says.

"In my talks with market traders over the weekend, they expected that this news was going to be taken in a very cautionary way by the futures market traders," he says. "The Monday morning cattle futures markets were skittish, bordering on schizophrenic."

Before the start of cash trade opened Monday morning, cattle markets seemed to be waiting for final test results. Robb says the news about the inconclusive BSE test also seemed to be overshadowed by broader political events. Futures were off but not the limit, with the June contract off by more than $1 and the more deferred contracts by nearly $2 on fed cattle.

So, if "inconclusive" test results are going be the norm -- and if USDA continues to post them for public consumption -- what will be the long-term effect on cattle market psychology?

"The futures markets will quickly understand how to work in this atmosphere," Robb explains. "We'll see some market volatility, but not at the magnitude we saw last week." It will be another story though, he warns, should one of the inconclusives come back as BSE-positive.

"But, in the long run, logic in the markets will help dampen the volatility that will arise with the screening protocol," Robb says. "This is a good reason for USDA not to change course and for the agency to continue posting the inconclusive test results. Otherwise, we'd be inevitably working in a rumor environment that could be far more damaging to markets than the current protocol."

In any case, Robb advises cow-calf producers not to panic when news comes in of an inconclusive BSE test.

"For now, unless we get some really bad news -- a definite BSE case -- the fall calf markets are still very strong," he says, predicting that bids today at $115-120/cwt. for 550-lb. steer calves are probably as high as what we'll see in the fall cash markets.

Wheat Hay: Cattle Love It

With mid-summer dry weather, there's always the possibility of parched pastures. It's important to cover that risk with the availability of quality, palatable hay at a good price.

Wheat hay, if harvested right, can fit the bill, just like it does for stockers and other cattle in winter grazing programs.

“The cattle love it. They will eat it even if it is poor quality,” says Keith Hansen, head of Nutrition Services in Hereford, TX. Hansen, whose company services some 140 feedyards with a 2-million-plus capacity, sees wheat hay as a quality forage for all cattle. The highest quality hay can have an 18% protein count, is very palatable, with a sweet taste that cattle like.

Matt Gard, a Fairview, OK, farmer/custom hayman, doesn't run cattle. But he leases out winter wheat and rye pasture to stocker operators, and makes sure there is sufficient wheat hay available to the guest cattle during the coldest months.

“It feeds really good,” he says, noting that yield for wheat hay's single cutting can be up to five round bales, or four tons/acre. “Its soft stem is really good for young calves,” he says.

Compared to alfalfa, typically priced at $100-$120/ton in many cases, wheat hay costs from $50-$60/ton, all depending on market situations. For the lower price, producers can receive a good forage that can provide vital nutrients.

A Tight Window

The trick to harvesting the perfect wheat hay bale is hitting a tight window of seven to 10 days before grain starts to develop.

“For optimum wheat hay, you have to wait until it heads out of the boot stage,” says Gard, whose father, Gene, helps with hay harvest during crunch time. “But it must be cut before the dough stage. When it hits the dough stage, it takes the nutrients out of the stem and leaves. They go directly to grain fill. The nutritional value goes downhill in a hurry.”

Adds Hansen, “If cattlemen are buying wheat hay, it may be wise to determine when it was harvested. For best quality, make sure it was hayed no later than the flag leaf.”

Of course, when wheat prices are high, like the $3.50-$4/bu. range seen this spring and summer, more wheat is harvested for grain, whether cattle were grazed on it or not. But, then there are cases in which Mother Nature can dictate haying decisions.

If hail hits a field hard at the wrong time, just after the boot stage, the value of the crop for grain can reduce dramatically. For example, some growers expecting 80-100 bu. of wheat/acre in the northwest Texas Panhandle near Perryton received heavy hail that either completely damaged the crop or knocked down its yield potential by 50% or more.

Mike Garnett produces and custom harvests wheat hay and other small grain forages, along with alfalfa and a variety of grazer-type hays. He baled several fields for customers whose wheat was either hailed out for grain, or who put up wheat hay for their cattle.

Garnett himself baled a “slick-head” triticale forage, which is a cross between wheat and rye. Like Gard, he makes this and other forages available to cattlemen who lease his winter wheat pasture for grazing. “The triticale can get chin high, but you can still hay it because it has a sweet stem and cattle like it a lot,” Garnett says.

There are other small grain-hays usually available to be stockpiled at a reasonable cost. Along with wheat and triticale, oat hay can be very palatable at all stages of maturity.

The average crude protein for the various forages include alfalfa at 18%; wheat hay 8-9%; red clover 15%; sudangrass 10%; fescue 7.5%; milo stubble 6%; prairie hay 5.8%; and corn stover 5.2%.

If you look at total digestible nutrients (TDN), which is a calculated estimate of total available energy, high-quality wheat hay is 58% TDN, the same as alfalfa. Sudangrass is 56%, fescue 53%, prairie 51%, baled milo stubble 49%, and baled corn stover 49%.

Larry Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, TX.

 

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Consolidation Continues

The 2002 Census of Agriculture released last month by USDA confirms that four major trends in the cattle industry are continuing. Those trends include:

Consolidation. The number of U.S. beef farms fell by more than 103,000 operations from 1997 to 2002, to just below a total of 800,000. Farms with 50-200 head continue to decrease in number while bigger producers are growing in size and number(s). The number of dairy farms dropped even more dramatically, going from 125,041 to 91,989.

Beef cow numbers fell by nearly 800,000 head, while dairy numbers remained constant from 1997 to 2002. And, the number of people working full time on the farm or ranch is increasing with the increase in farm size.

Average age of producers is 55.3 years. The average age has risen at a rate of one year for every five years since the 1978 census. That increasing age figure raises the issue about the transfer of assets that will have to occur at some point from one generation to the next.

Land, labor and equipment costs are rising, with labor being the fastest growing segment of farm expenses. However, values for land and buildings jumped by nearly 24% in the last five years, while equipment value increased by nearly 20%.

A changing marketing structure. Organic sales, and direct sales of ag products, continue to grow but remain relatively small from a dollar standpoint. The demand strength is evidenced by the falling number of sales but the increase in total dollars generated from beef sales.

Another interesting trend is that the only category of farm or ranch that grew in number during the census period was the hobby farmer/rancher with less that $2,500 in sales. Not surprisingly, the changes in the latest farm bill led to an 18.4% reduction in the number of corporate farms, reversing a trend that started in 1974. In addition, 90% of farms are operated by an individual or family.

For more detail, go to www.usda.gov/nass/ and click on “Census of Agriculture.”

R-CALF's strange bedfellows

R-CALF found itself in the unenviable position last month of having to defend anti-beef groups in the wake of widespread criticism of its May 26 press event in Washington, D.C. During that event, which R-CALF held in tandem with Ralph Nader's Public Citizen group, Carol Tucker Foreman's Consumer Federation Of America, and the Consumers Union, the four groups denounced USDA's handling of the BSE situation, questioned the safety of beef, and called for government hearings on the matter.

In a letter circulated a few days after the press event, and presumably alluding to an article in the May 28 issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly that criticized R-CALF for holding hands with the anti-meat activist groups, R-CALF patriarch Leo McDonnell struck out against industry criticism of what he charitably called “consumer groups.”

“Attacking our nation's (sic) largest consumer groups, such as the Consumer Federation of America and the Consumer Union, with these kinds of hateful undertones undermines the hundred of millions of dollars U.S. cattle producers have invested to improve demand and improve consumer relationships,” McDonnell wrote in his open letter.

To R-CALF, it's apparently only acceptable to trash your own family in public. Yet, the logic of McDonnell's charge is so blatantly perverse, it frankly leaves us speechless.

For the record, here is a short bio on each of the groups whose sensibilities McDonnell is apparently so wary of offending:

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) opposes irradiation for food safety and has pushed for the reduction of beef in the school lunch program. CFA's founder, Carol Tucker Foreman, is well known for her anti-beef rhetoric and efforts to stir up hysteria about the safety of our product.

    Tucker Foreman oversaw food safety and nutrition programs for Pres. Jimmy Carter. The 1977 release of the “Dietary Goals for the U.S.” served as a wellspring of negative sentiment against the beef industry, of which a key element of advice was “Decrease consumption of meat, and increase consumption of poultry and fish.” As USDA assistant secretary, Tucker Foreman was one of the biggest proponents of the Dietary Goals.

  • The Consumers Union (CU) and CFA have been two of the leading groups pushing since Dec. 23, 2003, the message that beef is unsafe. CU and its leader, Michael Hansen, have also led the crusade against biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.

    In fact, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once referred to Hansen's rhetoric this way: “Unfortunately, a few fringe groups are using misleading statements and blatant falsehoods as part of a long-running campaign to scare consumers about a perfectly safe food … it is necessary to condemn these attacks … for what they are: baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible.”

  • Then there's Public Citizen (PC), which gains its supposed credibility through founder Ralph Nader. But PC is best known for its membership in the Global Safe Food Alliance, formed by such animal rights organizations as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Farm Sanctuary, etc., to put out anti-meat messages. If you want more information on PC, just go to its Web site at www.citizen.org, check out the “Meatrix” at www.themeatrix.com or the report “Jungle 2000” at www.whistleblower.org/uploads/The%20Jungle%202000%20-.PDF.

It's unfortunate that R-CALF leadership doesn't attach a similar level of respect and sensitivity toward the beef industry and the hardworking folks who are a part of it by more carefully selecting its comrades-in-arms. Crawling into bed with those who have long and openly campaigned for the beef industry's demise just to promote your agenda doesn't benefit anyone but the anti-meat groups, which likely gained considerable credibility as “consumer groups” as a result of the act.

In R-CALF's Washington love fest with the anti-meat groups, only the beef industry got screwed.

Five disease-prevention tips

As veterinarians that embrace preventive medicine as the key to healthy and profitable cattle, our thoughts, even in a disease outbreak, turn to those of “How could we have prevented this?” We get phone calls from producers experiencing severe disease outbreaks and they list all of the treatments they've used, many of which provide no help. Some lament that the vaccinations also provide no protection.

Why is it that some farms and ranches seem to have disease outbreaks year after year? Yet, other operations almost never experience disease problems? Is it purely luck?

No, mostly it's because such operations have a health plan for their herds. Have you sat down with your herd-health veterinarian to develop a health plan for your herd? If not, now is the time to do so. To get you started, here are five tips for preventing disease in your herd.

  1. Don't buy disease

    This seems obvious, but this is a common way to introduce a new disease to the herd. Always ask the person in charge of the herd from which you have selected a purchase if the herd has any disease problems. Ask specifically about bovine viral diarrhea and Johne's Disease.

    Better yet, have your veterinarian call the seller's veterinarian for information about the herd's health status. Of course, the seller's veterinarian must have his client's permission to disclose anything, but if the seller refuses to give his veterinarian such permission, that would be reason enough to look elsewhere to purchase cattle.

  2. Spread them out

    The more dense the animal population, the more likely disease will be present. Simple phrases like “exposure equals disease” or “the solution to pollution is dilution” are accurate. Why does one Midwest operation calving in a mud lot in February have calf diarrhea while a herd just a mile down the road that begins calving in late April on pasture has none?

    A scouring calf produces billions of disease organisms. If there are 40 pairs on five acres, it's almost a guarantee that more calves will be exposed and they will amplify that pathogen. Billions of organisms turn into hundreds of billions.

    All neonates are “incubators of disease.” They simply do not possess the level of immunity that an older animal possesses.

    If this same group of 40 cows calved on 80 acres of pasture, the chances of calf scours developing in the herd are many times less likely.

  3. Don't buy animals at times of increased stress

    Buying cow-calf pairs during your calving season is a high-risk proposition that could easily introduce a new disease to your herd. If you must buy animals during calving, quarantine the new animals for 30-60 days before introduction to your herd. In fact, you should quarantine all new animal purchases for 30-60 days.

    Buying feeder cattle that are un-weaned or un-vaccinated results in increased stress at your feedlot. The purchase of preconditioned calves gives you a much greater opportunity to buy calves with reduced stress and less chance of disease than commodity calves.

    Also, make every effort to buy a pen in a single draft or put separate groups together after a day or two. Trickling in additional cattle over several weeks is a classic strategy for recurring disease breaks.

  4. Excellent nutrition

    Having excellent nutrition in every stage of development is one of the greatest opportunities for prevention of disease in cattle. In many herds with constant nagging problems of disease, a nutritional deficiency could easily be responsible. This deficiency could be in any nutrient — protein, energy, vitamins, minerals or even water. Having a nutritionist as part of your preventive health team is vital.

  5. Develop a herd health vaccination plan

    Producers generally are surprised to learn that by working closely with a herd-health veterinarian, less money tends to be spent on vaccine and medication than if no veterinarian were involved. How can this be?

    In herds where the veterinarian is progressive and up to date, only vaccines and medications that are necessary and effective are used. Many vaccines get used at the wrong time or without proper boosters, thus giving little or no disease protection.

    Such errors can cost you thousands of dollars over the course of a year. And, it's important to realize that even proper use of vaccines doesn't allow you to ignore the principles described above.

    Your herd health veterinarian has the same goals that you do with regard to animal health. If you have healthy animals, you are more likely to be profitable and stay in the beef business. Search out a veterinarian with a focus on beef practice and use him or her to help design strategies to avoid disease.

Special thanks to Jim McKean, DVM, JD, for assistance with the legality of consent concerning the doctor-patient-client relationship.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor of beef production medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

The Good, Bad And Ugly

“Whether producers have one cow or thousands, each has a responsibility in national animal identification [ID] because every producer, no matter the size, has cattle with the potential to shut down markets across the nation,” says Gary Wilson. He's a New Concord, OH, producer and co-chairs the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) Cattle Working Group.

That is the bottom line that Wilson and his group have returned to amid the frustrations and tough discussions that led first to development of USAIP and, most recently, to cattle-specific recommendations from the working group.

“At the end of the day, everyone has to focus on what we've been trying to accomplish from the outset. And, that is improving capabilities for animal disease surveillance and monitoring,” Wilson says.

Specifically, this target is the ability to accurately track any head of livestock with a foreign animal disease (FAD) or some other Class A malady back to every location it previously occupied, and do it within 48 hours.

Wilson reaffirmed that bottom-line goal when he presented the working group's much-anticipated report at last month's National Animal Identification Expo. USDA has indicated it wants reports from each species-specific working group before fleshing out particulars for its National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Cattle Industry Suggestions

Ultimately, there's no way of knowing which parts of the USAIP, or which working group recommendations, USDA will incorporate into NAIS, though they have already adopted USAIP data standards. But, Wilson says, “I don't see USDA doing something drastically different than what the species working groups recommend. I believe it's their full intent to stay as close to the USAIP recommendations as they possibly can.”

If that's the case, then highlights of the Cattle Working Group report offer cattle producers a notion of what is in the offing, although the timetable is still firmly etched in fresh mud (see sidebar).

Cost Still Unknown

Wilson points out both cost and data management are sticky issues that could take a while to resolve.

“As a producer, my overall concern is still what this is going to cost me…The level of state and federal funding will greatly influence what we can support as producers. Given today's world, I believe producers are commited to support the plan. The question is, how committed are our Congressional leaders and the administration?” he says.

USDA received $18.8 million from the Commodity Credit Corporation to begin the first phase of NAIS, which is premises ID, this year. The cattle group recommends $73 million be appropriated for NAIS in 2005.

Meanwhile, a debate continues over whether data submitted by producers should be housed and managed by a central database, which likely would be under USDA's direction. Or, whether that database should be kept and managed by private companies that make the data available to USDA. Choosing between them revolves primarily around issues of confidentiality and cost.

If USDA managed a central database of NAIS information, Wilson says there's no way USDA currently can guarantee confidentiality because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In fact, USDA reports that its legal counsel believes any information the agency accesses from private databases in the name of animal disease monitoring and surveillance might also be subject to FOIA. For that reason, a movement is afoot to introduce legislation that would exempt NAIS data submitted by producers from FOIA.

Even if data held in private databases were FOIA-proof without legislation, Wilson says some fear that, if government isn't holding the reins, it may find it easier to wiggle out of paying for any part of the system.

“I've characterized this process of building a national ID system as the good, the bad and the ugly. These issues are some of the uglies,” he says.

On the other end of the spectrum is the industry's recognition of the necessity and difficulty of tracking cattle on a timely basis. In fact, Wilson points out, “I've never had anyone say to me that national animal ID is a bad idea; they may express concerns about how it should be done. As long as we keep our focus on animal health monitoring and surveillance, I believe producers will support the system.”

Gearing Up For What's Likely

Assuming USDA remains fairly true to USAIP and the working group's recommendations, Wilson says there are only a couple of things he recommends producers do to get ready for NAIS.

First, producers must become familiar with the plan. He suggests using the USAIP for guidance (www.usaip.info).

Next, in preparation for the allocation of premises ID numbers that USDA says will begin later this summer, Wilson says, “If you have multiple operations, you need to sit down with your state vet and decide whether you should place all those operations under a single premises ID number, or whether you should have a separate premises ID number for each operation.”

At first blush, that may seem an inconsequential decision. But, say you've got multiple operations and a single premises ID number. If an FAD or Class A disease is traced back to you, the state veterinarian may have no choice but to quarantine all of the operations under that single premises ID number.

On the other hand, if you have distinctly different operations with separate premises ID numbers and can verify there's no commingling between operations, it's logical to assume some of those operations would not be quarantined.

“The first wave of our efforts will be to prevent foreign animal diseases from entering the country,” Wilson emphasizes. “But, if that prevention fails, how do we isolate the problem properly in a short period of time to contain it? That's what national animal ID is all about.”

The Future Of Animal ID

Here's what the Cattle Working Group recommends:

  • ID devices

    The working group recommends the use of ISO-compliant radio-frequency identification (ID) tags for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This runs counter to USDA's publicly stated intent to make NAIS “technologically neutral,” however.

  • Cattle movement

    This must be reported anytime cattle are moved interstate, change ownership, or are commingled with another producer's cattle. In other words, moving cattle from pasture to pasture on the same ranch (premises) or another ranch (different premises) you may be renting, would not require reporting or NAIS tags. However, move them to a neighbor's ranch (a different premises) and commingle your cattle with his for summer grazing, and the application of NAIS tags and movement reporting would be required.

  • Reporting responsibility

    This recommendation calls for premises receiving cattle to report the movement. That makes sense because sellers can't be expected to birddog what buyers do, never mind the fact sellers often are unaware who purchased their cattle through markets. However, in the case of private-treaty sales where no official marketing agent exists, the official reporting responsibilities by the receiving premises will be based on the honor system which may or may not meet everyone's needs. Therefore, with private-treaty sales, sellers are encouraged to report the movement too for their own liability protection in documenting the day their management responsibilities stopped.

  • Industry-wide participation

    To achieve the timely trace-back capability sought by NAIS, the working group believes every cattle producer must participate.

  • Cost sharing

    Since NAIS is being implemented to protect agriculture, one of the nation's critical infrastructures, the working group believes government should share in the cost of building and maintaining the system.

  • Data confidentiality

    The working group recommends complete confidentiality of the producer information reported as part of NAIS. This includes an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act and prohibiting access to the data by other government agencies.

All these are in addition to a premises ID system, which represents the initial phase of NAIS.