I was inundated with e-mails last week suggesting I'd flip-flopped on my position relative to national ID by advocating a mandatory program ("'Voluntary' ID Is An Idea Time Has Passed By"). Hopefully this will clarify my position.

No doubt, this is a perplexing issue. Many among us advocate government intervention on a marketing issue but oppose it on an animal health issue, and vice versa.

I've always been a huge proponent of national ID, not so much for food safety or animal health (which are all the national ID system is designed for), but as an information-gathering and data-transfer tool with the ability to improve our product. I believe the number-one reason this industry has remained segmented and unable to effectively focus on our customers and total system efficiency is the absence of an infrastructure that allows sharing of information up and down the production chain. National ID would provide this.

I also believe government has a cattle-industry role in three distinct areas -- ensuring the marketplace functions appropriately, ensuring the health of our livestock (diseases and the like), and ensuring consumer safety. One could also add another minor role -- serving as an independent verifying party for safety and quality assurance.

National ID is vital to ensuring the safety of our beef herd. That role was sealed on Sept. 11, 2001, and the process accelerated on Dec. 23, 2003. USDA, FDA and Homeland Security have determined that, in order to protect consumers and our food supply system, the U.S. must have traceability.

We can sit back and let the market forces dictate it, but the rest of the world has embraced it and we're now simply the laggards. The industry can ill afford to continue to thumb its nose at the desires of the consumer, and the time for more proactive action has long since passed. Whether mandatory or voluntary, the industry needs to rapidly move to provide traceability on its product. Waiting another three years just extends our risk and our financial losses needlessly. -- Troy Marshall