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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
Like Other Countries Do

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beef "Growers" Oppose Regulation that would make our food more safe

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it would be altering a program aimed at tracking all livestock. North Carolina farmers worry new regulations will make business more expensive.


After mad cow disease spread worry about unsafe meat, federal farm officials created the National Animal Identification System in 2004.

Chris Waldrop is a food policy expert at the Consumer Federation of America. He says the intent was to protect people from tainted food.

“If you have an animal that’s diseased out there, an animal that may have been identified with mad cow disease, you need to be able to trace it throughout the cattle herd as quickly as possible so that doesn’t spread.” (.09)

Only forty percent of farmers opted into the voluntary program.

Mark Teder’s family has farmed in Stokes County for thirty years. He says he loves working with his fifteen head of cattle in his fields. And he gets sad when he sees housing developments pop up on what has always been farm land.

Like many North Carolina cattlemen, Teder and his father raise calves.

“Our cattle are semi-tall, angus cross cattle. We breed them with registered Angus bulls which gets a good cross-bred calf. A good calf that will hit the ground growing, we usually wean our calves 500 pounds and then sell them on the market.” (.22)

The government wants to know where Teder’s calves go. The new iteration of animal ID will track animals that cross state lines and largely shift the work to the states.

Teder sells them to two buyers in the state and one in Virginia. In turn, they sell them to feed lots out west to fatten up.

He says he sees the value in tracking animals but the whole concept stirs a lot of fear in people.

“People who fool with cattle in Stokes County are older people, and they don’t like change. They got a few cows out here and they like to see them grazing. But they don’t want to have to fool with anything that the government says they have to do, or that anybody says they have to do.” (.20)

Skeptics of national animal ID exist in Washington, too. Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr says ranchers are weary of any new regulation.

“I think the question is, what are you getting at? What’s the purpose of doing it? I think we’ve got the safest food system in the world. I don’t think there’s any question.” (.12)

Burr says the U.S. had stringent ag-policies when mad cow disease hit … and something bad will always manage to slip through the system.

Voluntary - that’s the word Colin Woodall needs to hear in the discussion. He’s a lobbyist with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and opposes any plan that forces a farmer to do anything.

He supports shifting the effort to the states – even if that means there could be fifty unique programs.

“If there are 50 different systems, that’s not a problem if they can all talk to each other.” (.05)

That may not worry Woodall, but it certainly concerns David Marshall. He’s the state veterinarian.

“Some states may opt for brands, particularly the Midwestern states for their cattle ID. Other states may opt for traditional metal ear tags, others for bangle visual ear tags.” (.15)

The Agriculture Department says it will take two years to develop and implement new systems. Marshall and other state vets are talking with USDA about how to proceed.

Back in Stokes County, Mark Teder says he’ll comply with whatever comes … because he’ll have to. After all, he knows a good product means good business. But he worries that any extra costs could mean the end of the small-scale rancher.

“A lot of the producers don’t have the facility to work a cow, to vaccinate a cow, just to catch a cow. But I think when they go to making this mandatory a lot of them is going to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to get out, sell my herd and get out.” (.20)

But with more and more people concerned about where their food comes from, consumers may want it to be mandatory. After all, you are what you eat.

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