Remember when cars didn’t have air bags? Remember when air bags were optional and you had to pay extra for them? 

Today, air bags are standard equipment. In an era where driving an SUV is part of many people’s
“personal-safety” strategy, who would buy a car without air bags?

The push to include air bags was an excellent move for consumers and the auto industry. Consumers benefited by getting safer products. For some automakers it provided a competitive niche, at least for a while, and helped build loyalty among customers. It definitely raised the bar for all.

That’s not unlike the potential for the national animal identification movement. While USDA’s National Animal Identification System is designed to help maintain the health of the U.S. livestock herd, there may be additional side benefits.

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 animal ID system is implemented.

And well they should. NAIS will help ensure a more healthy national livestock and poultry herd overall. However, I’m guessing that consumers might be reading more into NAIS than the 48-hour traceback of any animal that raises a disease red flag — which is the point of NAIS. Some sectors of the food chain are reading more into it as well.

But just as air bags started out slowly and evolved into an expected commodity, it’s likely that animal ID will follow a similar path. Some industries, producers or food sectors will likely expand the ID program to offer more information and specific product traits. 

For now, let’s look a bit deeper into what consumers have said.

The consumer survey was sponsored by Global Animal Management, which provides animal identification systems. It was, however, conducted by an independent entity in mid-May and involved 1,000 U.S. consumers.

  • More than 37 percent said their current meat safety confidence is high (at least 8 on a 10-point scale where 1=not confident, and 10=very confident.) Only 10 percent rated their confidence as low (1 to 3). Overall, the current confidence score averaged 6.5. Not bad.
  • Asked how they’d feel if NAIS was in place — nearly 55 percent said their confidence would then be high (8 to 10). Only 4 percent said it would remain low (1 to 3).
  • Add in the mandatory factor and more consumers (58 percent) said they would be even more confident in U.S. meat and poultry products. In that case, consumer confidence averaged 7.5 compared with 5.8 for a voluntary program. Only 28.1 percent said a voluntary program would generate high confidence.
  • As a side note, confidence in the current system as well as NAIS seemed to increase with a consumer’s age, education and income.
  • Respondents believe that NAIS will give producers information they need to protect livestock and poultry from diseases.

  Worth making special note is the fact that consumers said they would pay more for products from identified animals. Of course, we all know consumers don’t always do as they say.

  • If given a choice between meat and poultry products identified through NAIS versus products that are not identified, 55.6 percent of those polled said they would chose the “identified” product. Here’s the caveat: “but only if the price wasn’t too much higher.”
  • Another 13.2 percent said they would chose the “identified” product regardless of price, and 12 percent would continue to buy the lowest-priced products, no matter what.

We’ll have to see if these last points pan out.

Still, animal identification may present other value-added opportunities for those who venture into that arena. It certainly could be a selling point in the global marketplace. Depending on the information captured, it could be integrated into retail grocery and foodservice logistics, quality-control and traceability processes. However, you will still have to fill a need, provide a specific trait or add a benefit to the end product.

Just like automakers and air bags, animal ID and the offshoots that follow will eventually raise the bar for all.