Animal identification is like a bad penny, it just keeps coming back around. But unlike that penny, animal ID/traceback is becoming increasingly valuable in the marketplace and not having an all-inclusive program is becoming increasingly risky. Whether the final numbers for U.S. export sales close out 2011 at 25 percent or 27 percent of this year’s total production, keeping markets open is essential to pork producers’ viability and animal ID is key.
It’s been more than 25 years that I walked into a colleague’s office at the National Pork Producers Council to interview him for an article on — you guessed it — animal ID. I had been out of college just a few years, but had already attended several animal ID meetings and heard much debate and many challenges regarding the need to move forward with a multi-species’ program.
I walked in, sat down and said to my colleague, “Aren’t you sick of talking about animal ID? When is this ever going to move forward?” As an industry veteran, he had a diplomatic answer but also one that expressed confidence that it wouldn’t be many more years.
Well, here we are 25+ years later and we’re still debating the logic behind identifying animals. Sure, the pork industry moved forward with an ID program of its own in 1987, and has excellent participation. Other species also have significant portions of their producers aligned in programs, often tied to efforts to clean up a nagging and costly disease.
Still there are many outliers who want nothing to do with any kind of animal ID or traceability-- no way, no how. They are a tenacious and vocal bunch. Among their rally cries-- the cost is burdensome; people with just a few animals shouldn’t have to conform to ID requirements, it’s the big producers who pose the risk; or why should small producers have to ID their animals just because the big guys have the most to lose. But the most common obstacle is aligned with the argument that my animals are my business, no one else’s and certainly not the governments’. The idea that not only is big brother watching but he’s telling me what to do is the conviction that runs the deepest.
Heaven forbid an outbreak of foreign animal disease, or a disease that we haven’t even gotten a hint of yet, surfaces. Not only would our export markets slam shut, but it would jeopardize our relationship with consumers at home. You know, our fellow citizens think we already are able to traceback the animals that are raised for their food.