A new 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 is implemented. Under the NAIS, authorities would be able to locate and trace within 48 hours any animals that raise foreign-animal and other emergency disease concerns.

A consumer survey sponsored by Global Animal Management, a provider of animal and premises identification systems.

The 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 confidence levels could increase once NAIS is in place. NAIS is scheduled for mandatory reporting of cattle, hogs, poultry and other meat-producing livestock by January 2009.

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

Overall, current consumer confidence in the meat supply averaged a score of 6.5.  According to the survey, if NAIS were to be implemented, that confidence level would jump to 7.4. Nearly 55 percent of those polled said their confidence would then be high (8 to 10), and those who said their confidence would remain low (1 to 3) declined to less than 4 percent.

The poll shows that consumers may be even more confident in meat and poultry safety if participation in NAIS is mandatory versus 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. Only 28.1 percent said they would be highly confident of a voluntary system. Conversely, 58 percent said they would be highly confident (8 to 10) if NAIS is required.

"Consumers are already confident in the U.S. meat supply and an additional step that is mandatory will increase their confidence," notes John Lawrence, director of Iowa State University’s Iowa Beef Center. "This research showed that confidence in the current system and NAIS seemed to increase with a consumer’s 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.

Asked what they would do if offered a choice between meat and poultry products identified through NAIS versus products that are not identified, 55.6 percent of consumers 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," says Lawrence.

In addition to boosting consumer confidence, NAIS may present 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. 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, or bar-coding systems. But all of that would be outside of the NAIS program itself.

As proposed, NAIS wouldn't become mandatory until January 2009, but as a first step NAIS has begun registering the farms and ranches, or "premises," where animals are located.

Source: Schering-Plough Corporation