The stated goal of the National Animal Identification System is to protect animal health and the security of U.S. livestock herds. The benefits, however, could stretch further by helping producers refine their genetic selection, management and marketing. In addition, implementation of NAIS could improve consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply.

Global Animal Management Inc. recently sponsored a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers to examine how animal identification might influence their confidence in the safety of meat and poultry.

The poll, 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. 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. Only 10 percent of respondents rated their confidence as low (1–3). Overall, current consumer confidence in the meat supply averaged 6.5.

According to the survey, average consumer confidence in meat safety and security would jump to 7.4 with implementation of NAIS. Nearly 55 percent of those polled said their confidence would then be high, and those who said their confidence would remain low declined to less than 4 percent.

The poll results also indicate that a mandatory animal-ID program could boost consumer confidence more than a voluntary one. 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 if NAIS is required, compared with only 28.1 percent who said they would feel highly confident if the system is optional.  

As a tool for managing animal disease, NAIS does not call for traceability of meat products as they move from packers to consumers. But in the future, we see potential for voluntary partnerships linking retailers with the rest of the supply chain to offer traceability of consumer products. In our survey, 55.6 percent of respondents indicated they would choose meat and poultry products identified as traceable through NAIS, but only if the price was not much higher. Only 13.2 percent said they would choose the identified product regardless of price, and 12 percent indicated that they would continue to buy the lowest-priced products no matter what. 

 We are glad to know that consumers feel good about the integrity of the meat and poultry supply  —  as they should. The industry at all levels has worked hard to protect animal health and provide safe products. It is extremely difficult to predict what impact NAIS implementation will have on consumer behavior, since many factors enter into food-purchase decisions. A pro-active 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.

Jim Heinle is president of Global Animal Management Inc., a subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp.