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Cattlemans corner Austin SneddenAustin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Apparently, the United States Department of Agriculture has never heard the cliché about not beating a dead horse. The USDA has proposed mandatory ID for every bovine on multiple occasions and has always been met with bold opposition. The usual cast of characters is responsible for conjuring up the fictitious need for mandatory individual ID every time, but it is never derived from a real demand for it or targeted toward the players that need it.

Animal disease traceability gives a warm feeling to many, like a pacifier or a blankie, but the only real threat, as it has been for many decades, is Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). FMD is highly virulent and spreads through cattle and other species quickly. FMD is virulent enough that we don’t necessarily know where it is going next, but we absolutely know where it isn’t right now. The United States is FMD-free. The primary, and some would say only, threat to our domestic livestock health is a foreign-borne disease that does not exist here. The USDA’s solution to our only realistic animal health threat is to require all domestic producers to individually ID all mature cattle in a clean country.

Yes, it sounds asinine and a completely unreasonable threat analysis, but it gets worse. The USDA doesn’t require country of origin labeling (COOL) on cattle, and this same agency currently allows imported cattle and meat to be labeled “Product of USA.” The trifecta of mandatory ID proponents pushing the USDA to lay another mandated burden on domestic producers is tag manufacturers, animal pharmaceutical companies, and multi-national meat packers.

There is a natural and obvious motive for tag manufacturers to support mandating individual ID—government-enforced market expansion. A requirement that almost all cattle be individually distinguished with an electronic identification tag (EID) would be a huge windfall to tag manufacturers. A closely related beneficiary of this government-mandated program would be third-party verification companies and databases. These companies began circling like vultures in anticipation of mandatory enrollment, convincing some that third-party verification and archiving would protect their privacy.

The animal pharmaceutical companies play a role in this as well. The need for animal disease traceability is built on the assumption that a virulent disease will be exposed to domestic livestock. I am not going to infer that pharmaceutical companies are hoping for FMD in the United States, but if it were to happen, they would be waiting in the wings to offer vaccinations to herds, not totally
condemned. I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I usually walk away from those types of conversations, but we have seen in recent history that pharmaceutical companies have made billions in offering a vaccine regardless of efficacy. The animal disease traceability mandate would give us a false sense of security, enabling importation from infected countries, which brings us to our
next mandate advocate.

The multi-national packer would love to source cattle and beef from anywhere on the globe to bring to the gem of the world market—the U.S. consumer. Droughts, abundance, and cattle cycles create situations where there are regional surpluses and shortages when it comes to the cattle and beef supply. As we currently see record cattle prices due to a national drought-created cattle shortage, meat packers would seize the opportunity to source cattle and beef from an infected country like Brazil. There is an opportunity with mandatory disease traceability that regulators would feel secure enough to import from infected regions. Couple that with a vaccine bank, and packers would have amassed a lot of leverage. A collateral benefit to the packer would be a national database informing them of inventory in the pipeline.

The burden of all this, from labor to cost, would be on the domestic cow-calf producer and livestock marketers. Ranchers will be mandated to buy tags and pay for the labor to tag cattle, but tags aren’t infallible. Domestic sale barns and livestock marketers will have commerce slowed as they bring cattle into compliance and account for technical and physical failures of tags. Almost every grassroots, cattle, and livestock marketing association has opposed government-mandated individual ID.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has not opposed mandatory national animal ID. Instead, they have suggested what they would like the mandate to look like. Keep in mind, the NCBA has repeatedly spoken out against mandatory country-of-origin labeling on imported cattle and beef—just so we all know where their bread is buttered. Government teaming with giant corporations in crony capitalism to lay a mandate and burden on domestic cattle producers to prevent a problem that is created by imported cattle and meat…. is still a bad Idea. The USDA and its buddies are again trying to reanimate this dead horse. The correct answer is still no.

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