Better traceability across the U.S. beef production chain will be necessary to compete in international markets, and to provide information that adds value from farm to table, but significant barriers remain for adoption of comprehensive traceability in the United States. Those were a few key messages during a panel discussion on the topic during last week’s International Livestock Congress in Denver.
The expert panel consisted of Mark Gustafson, VP for international sales at JBS, Rick Stott, executive VP at AgriBeef and John Butler, CEO of the Beef Marketing group.
Leann Saunders, with “Where Food Comes From, Inc.” an animal-identification and verification company formerly known as IMI Global, moderated the discussion.
Saunders provided some background, noting that historically, traceability in the U.S. has been market driven, with some producers pursuing premiums for “story beef.” The discovery of BSE in the United States, and subsequent disruptions to our export markets created a demand for age verification over the past decade. As long as producers were engaged in age verification, they added source verification and in some cases process verification for added value.
The federal Animal Disease Traceability (ADP) rule, which takes effect March 11, focuses exclusively on disease, rather than verifying value-added attributes or qualifying beef for export. Saunders adds that the scope of the rule is far more lenient than mandatory systems in place in most other beef-exporting countries.
Gustafson says most countries have some degree of traceability, with Australia’s system probably the most sophisticated. He recalls the Australians 30 years ago were debating the same issues we are debating now, such as privacy and costs. Without a voluntary agreement, the government stepped in with a mandatory program. The resulting system has helped make Australian beef highly competitive in international markets.
China, Gustafson adds, will insist on traceability as a condition for any eventual agreement to import U.S. beef. Lack of traceability could become the most significant non-tariff trade barrier for U.S. beef.
Stott notes that the AgriBeef operation includes cow-calf, feedlot and packing components, and uses animal traceability extensively. Most of their traceability efforts are intended for internal use to improve beef quality and productivity. Among the company’s branded beef products, only one, “Snake River Farms,” is identified at the retail level as traceable back to the ranch. This brand features American Wagyu beef products, and much of it goes to the export market.