My View From The Country

Liability Risk Is Beginning To Flow Down The Beef Production Chain

Table of Contents:

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is moving forward with its traceability initiative. The debate is no longer about whether or not it is going to be required, but how do we create a system that minimizes the costs and does not impede the flow of beef commerce?

The whole topic of liability is a frustrating one for cow-calf producers. After all, a cow-calf producer has no way of controlling what happens to the product once it leaves the ranch. However, in today’s litigious world, someone is going to be sued if a problem develops.

Retailers, packers, and feeders tend to be much larger enterprises; thus, they’re much more appealing targets from a trial lawyer’s viewpoint. That doesn’t mean, however, that cow-calf producers are immune from such legal action.

Lawyers at the retailer and packer levels understandably work hard to protect their clients. Increasingly, they are asking for affidavits or some other form of guarantee that the products or cattle they procure haven’t been fed animal byproducts and that withdrawal guidelines, etc., have been followed.

Meanwhile, the hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) sector has created additional value by making specific claims regarding those product. That value, however, has potential risk associated with it, as one misstep can create big problems. That means the HRI trade and retailers are demanding assurances from packers in order to limit any liability exposure.

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Not surprisingly, as the packers have been forced to accept that liability, their lawyers are demanding assurances from their suppliers. Now, the feedlots and auction markets are going to be demanding those assurances from their suppliers as well.

It can be argued that this is a good thing, and it’s certainly understandable. Thus, everyone will be very cognizant of meeting standards while animals are under their control; they’ll also demand that guidelines have been followed prior to their taking control of the animal. Of course, it also means that liability will be pushed back to the cow-calf sector as well.

The challenge becomes making sure these assurances can be made, while not impeding the rate and flow of commerce. I don’t envy the logistics and paperwork of a sale barn, for instance, that sells a load of cows and must have 25 different owners sign an affidavit and store it on file.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

shaun evertson (not verified)
on Mar 7, 2014

Why not a per-head fee paid to seller for producing the paperwork? Why do it for free and eat the cost, particularly when there's no possible hope for the producer of traceability paperwork being a shield against litigation. If the buyers up the chain want paperwork, they should pay for the service. When traceability become a valued commodity, everybody wins.

Ken Ziegler (not verified)
on Mar 7, 2014

Come and have a look how the Canadian system has been working. Very little paper work yet works well. Enhanced consumer confidence results in better demand which translates into better prices under the free enterprise model. The cow calf guys win in this instance as all the others are margin operators and typically bid to the point of breakeven.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 10, 2014

There is very little paperwork in Canada becauses we don't actually have a traceability system. We have an animal Identification system that nobody can use to actually get information on what happened to an animal upstream in the production system

James McGrann (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

May also look at New Zealand and Australia as they have had a national system for many years.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Most may find it hard to believe but currently there is zero market for full traceability unless you are a niche business. No large scale harvest company in the US has a domestic market for this type of program. I find it interesting that the public wants traceability but they don't care enough to actually push the matter to any result.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Ironically,the same people that are asking the producers to accept thier liability for free are also crying and claiming that it is an awful expense and burden to comply with COOL ???????????????????

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 11, 2014

Anonymous ...and I find it equally ironic that those who support COOL are so opposed to a national animal identification system.

Not proud of the animals you raise and the manner in which you raise them? If you are so proud of how you raise animals, what do you have to hide? Why not put an individual ID in each and every animal that leaves your premise?

Packers are used to having auditors in their facilities to review and confirm how they conduct day-to-day business activities. The government is in those establishments EVERY day looking over thier shoulder. And third party auditors and individual customers are constantly in thise facilities as well. Feeders are now being audited as well.

Are you ready to have your management practices audited by complete strangers? Why are cattlemen so opposed to identifying their cattle ...and NO brands are NOT a form of individaul identification necessary to track cattle through the produciotn sytem don't play that LAME excuse!

What is good for the goose equally as good for the gander. Right?

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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