A recent poll shows that consumers will become even more confident in the safety and security of the nation’s meat and poultry supply if a mandatory National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is implemented.  Under the NAIS, authorities would be able to quickly locate specific animals to prevent the spread of livestock diseases, such as mad cow disease. The consumer survey was sponsored by Global Animal Management Inc. (GAM), a leading provider of animal and premises identification systems.  GAM is a wholly owned subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corporation, the worldwide animal health business of the Schering-Plough Corporation (NYSE: SGP). 

Survey results

The GAM-sponsored poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers, conducted in mid-May, shows that consumers already have considerable confidence in the nation’s meat and poultry supply, but their confidence levels could jump even higher once NAIS is in place.  The NAIS proposal, recently unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, calls for mandatory reporting of the movements of cattle, hogs, poultry and other meat-producing livestock by January 2009. 

More than 37 percent of respondents to the poll said their current meat safety confidence is high – at least 8 on a 10-point scale (1=not confident, and 10=very confident). Only 10 percent of respondents rated their confidence as low (1-3). Overall, current consumer confidence in the meat supply averaged 6.5 on a 10-point scale.

According to the survey, if NAIS were to be implemented, average consumer confidence in meat safety and security would jump to 7.4.  Nearly 55 percent of those polled said their confidence would then be high (8-10), and those who said their confidence will remain low (1-3) declined to less than 4 percent.

“We are glad to know that consumers feel good about the integrity of the meat and poultry supply – as they should,” says Jim Heinle, president of GAM. “The industry at all levels has worked hard to protect animal health and provide safe products.  This survey shows that the ability to trace livestock diseases through a national identification system may be a tool to raise consumer confidence even further.”

Mandatory system improves confidence

The GAM-sponsored poll shows that consumers may be even more confident in meat and poultry safety if participation in NAIS is mandatory, rather than voluntary. On the same 10-point scale, average consumer confidence is 7.5 under a mandatory system, compared with 5.8 for a voluntary one. Fifty-eight percent of consumers polled said they would be highly confident (8-10) if NAIS is required, compared with only 28.1 percent who said they would feel highly confident if the system is optional.  

“Consumers are already confident in the U.S. meat supply and an additional step that is mandatory will increase their confidence,” noted Dr. John Lawrence, director of the IowaBeefCenter.  “This research showed that confidence in the current system and NAIS seemed to increase with age, education and income.”

Respondents also said they believe that NAIS will give farmers and ranchers the information they need to protect livestock and poultry from animal diseases – 42 percent would be highly confident, and only 5.6 percent would have low confidence.      

NAIS is a disease management tool for industry and government and does not require consumer products to be identified accordingly in stores.  But in the future, individual retailers or suppliers might partner with industry producers to provide traceability information voluntarily. 

When asked what they would do if offered a choice between meat and poultry products identified as being tracked through NAIS, or products that aren’t identified, most consumers – 55.6 percent – said they would chose the “identified” product, but only if the price wasn’t too much higher. Only 13.2 percent said they would chose the “identified” product regardless of price, and 12 percent indicated that they would continue to buy the lowest-priced products, no matter what. 

“There is an indication that consumers may pay a modest amount more for traceability.  This is consistent with other research.  They like what they have but will take more if it is at little or no cost,” says Lawrence.

Heinle adds:  “It is extremely difficult to predict what impact NAIS implementation will have on consumer behavior, since many factors enter into food purchase decisions. A proactive approach like NAIS certainly will help maintain the consuming public’s vote of confidence, by strengthening both the reality and perception that our meat supply is among the safest in the world.”

ID system presents other opportunities

 In addition to bolstering consumer confidence, Heinle says that NAIS presents other value-added opportunities to the livestock industry.  NAIS provides the potential for the industry to gather and manage information that may help maintain global markets and ensure consumer confidence in the food system. Livestock producers could record the age, source and breeds of their animals, along with feed, animal health, and other production data that may be important to buyers, both domestically and abroad. 

Information captured using NAIS technologies also can be integrated into retail grocery and foodservice logistics, quality control and traceability processes, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), or bar-coding systems.

Farms and ranches being registered

As proposed, NAIS wouldn’t become mandatory until January 2009, but tools are in place now to allow livestock producers to easily capture the needed information. As a first step, NAIS already has begun registering the farms and ranches, or “premises,” where animals are located. 

As of mid-May, USDA had registered and assigned unique premises identification numbers to 74,340 farms and ranches nationwide.  Of those, more than 25 percent have been registered using the Global Animal Management Premises Management System (GPMS).  This USDA-approved system integrates seamlessly with the GAM VeriSource system to track movements of groups of livestock and individual animals, and simultaneously manage value-added data. 

“Although there are thousands of premises yet to be registered, we’re seeing good progress,” says Heinle, adding that GAM applauds USDA efforts to accelerate consensus on how NAIS will be implemented.

Global Animal Management, Inc., is a subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corporation, the worldwide animal health business of the Schering-Plough Corporation.