This letter was posted on the Slow Food Forum-
Ron Freeman... Central Illinois
Cow/calf producer in West Central Illinois
Past director of a Breed Association
President of a regional satellite marketing program
I have read and reread most of the dialogue written about the need for animal identification. Nothing that I have read warrants such a redundant program that seems to be full of cost overruns and less than competent administration. Before we step into another program engineered by companies that operate on the periphery of our industry, with costs that will probably outdistance predictions, maybe we should expose this concept for what it really is.
One thing to be cognizant of is the fact that we have always had animal ID (fire brand) and trace back. That is precisely how we have all but eradicated theft of our cattle and bangs from our cowherds. And, I may add, that we have done that without the intervention of corporate America.
The proponents of this program are using fear and financial gain in the same dialogue. On one hand, they want to create this belief to the consumer that bio-terrorism will strike the meat industry and widespread death will occur. On the other, they are telling producers that premiums will be paid for ID cattle. And, that those premiums will far out weigh the cost (How many times have we heard something like that ?).
But what are the costs going to be? No one has given any real concrete evidence of costs. Only speculation. In one industry paper, the publisher used words like we “think” this is what it will cost and we “hope” this will be the premiums. Any profitable business that foresees a new venture on the horizon first develops a cost analysis to see if it will be a sound financial move. Then, and only then, does it proceed. Is this what the tag and software companies have done ?
If one segment of the industry wants it while another segment pays for it, it will be a cost effective move for the company that desires it. If that segment can inflate the price of the finished product to foreign markets because of animal ID while another pays for it, how great is that? It appears to me that those who are pushing so hard for animal ID are building the cart first and then will decide how many horses it will take to pull it and whose stable the horses will come from. Or maybe they don’t care. Maybe, their ones that stand to gain the most by it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the financial windfall a company will experience by such a program. All one has to do is to add up all the cattle traded on any given week, month or year. Then, multiply that by what an ID is supposed to cost.
But, what if the projected cost (used loosely) is not $3.00 pr head. What if the cost runs up to $20 or even $30 a head?
If you think this is far fetched, ask an Australian cattleman what he is paying. The president of the Australia Beef Association called it the worst one single thing ever to hit their cattlemen. They were told the cost would be $3.00 a head. It is now $37.00 a head and still rising.
There are leaders in our industry that have not told the whole truth about animal ID in other countries. They have openly misled us into believing that it has worked. And please keep in mind that animal id is not a cure for anything other than low profits in companies wishing to sell products connected to the ID concept.
All I am saying is that we must have in black and white what the true costs will be and what part of the industry will fund it and lastly, what are the legitimate benefits to us as producers. Then and only then can we as producers calculate the true effectiveness of the program. Where will we be financially if the market goes south? Will it take the profit on a given calf to ID that calf? It costs an average of $350 to run a cow per year. If a 500 lb. calf price dips to $70, where will the money come from to ID that animal?
As a fifth generation cattleman who believes Mother Nature is the greatest teacher and common sense the greatest guide, I can see ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE in this program. We have become a group of symptom treating cattlemen while allowing companies to control us through their marketing and advertising. The whole animal ID program has the same stench of corporate corruption found in so many aspects of our culture today.
It is time we return to a management plan based upon production efficiency. A plan based upon eliminating the problems that occur and not just treating the symptoms that appear. By doing this, we can eliminate the need for outside expenditures called on so often by so many cattlemen of today. Profit in the cattle business can be achieved through hard work and diligently applying principles that produce a calf for every cow at weaning on nothing more than grass and mother’s milk.
Freeman Bros. Ranching