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Trade Show Highlights New Electronic Identification (EID) Developments

Posted Mar. 1, 2003

During the last week of January, 2003, I attended the National Cattleman's Beef Association's (NCBA) national convention in Nashville, Tenn. There were many highlights of the convention however, I would like to focus on just one. This convention offers what may be the premier tradeshow associated with the cattle industry. I spent all of one morning and part of an afternoon taking it in.

One of the things that really caught my attention was the number of companies offering various means of cattle identification and information management. Now, we are all aware that there are multiple companies offering visual identification in the form of some type of ear tag. There were at least 12 such companies displaying their wares at the NCBA tradeshow.

The small, typically round electronic individual identification (EID) tags are being offered by a number of companies as well. In fact, we as participants in this convention were tracked through the trade show by one vendor who gave us each one of these EID tags and strategically placed readers throughout the trade show.

What you may not be aware of is the new upcoming technology that is now available for cattle identification. There is a company out of Greeley, Colo., called EZ-ID that now offers EID in the form of a rumen bolus that can be administered with a conventional balling gun. This bolus lodges in the animal's reticulum and remains there throughout its life. As the animal goes by a reader panel, it can be electronically identified.

Retinal imaging is another form of identification that was the stuff of science fiction just a few years ago, but now it has become a reality in the beef business. A Fort Collins, Colo., based company, Optibrand, is now offering a cattle retinal imaging system that is hand held, incorporates global positioning technology, and seems to be surprisingly affordable.

Why all this emphasis on individual identification? I think there are at least two reasons. First, there is more of an attempt to quantify individual animal performance in the beef cattle industry now than at any time in the past. If we are going to quantify individual performance, we must be able to measure it, and before we can measure individual performance, we have to be able to identify individuals. Historically, this is where the beef industry has had difficulty. With the new technology available at a relatively low price, we as an industry are quickly moving beyond this pitfall. The future is truly exciting in terms of the measurement of individual animal performance.

The second and probably more urgent reason may be found in the new farm bill passed this last year. Country of origin labeling (COOL) will become a reality for the beef industry. Whether an individual producer likes it, hates it or doesn't know about it, it sounds like we better be prepared for it. By Sept. 30, 2004, food retailers must inform consumers about the country of origin of "covered commodities." That includes beef, pork, lamb, fish, peanuts, fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was handed a tough assignment by Congress when it approved the country of origin labeling provisions as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service is charged with developing the COOL voluntary guidelines, which were made available for public comment on Oct. 11, 2002. Stakeholders have a 180-day period, until April 9, 2003, to submit comments on these guidelines, which could ultimately serve as the blue print for mandatory labeling on Sept. 30, 2004.

In the case of beef and pork, only animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States may be designated as having a U.S. country of origin. How much record keeping will have to be done? How will it be implemented? Who will pay for it? The precedent has been set that the party with the least power in the market chain typically antes up. So, don't bet against it being you, the producer, who foots at least some of the bill. One thing seems obvious you may have to have some means of individual identification to help with this process. Fortunately, whether it is for individual performance measurement or abiding by new government regulation, innovative technology is available.