At press time, Britain's total of foot- and -mouth disease (FMD) cases stood at 251, and France had just announced its first confirmed case. Cases had also been found in Argentina, Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

A total of 90 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, had banned live animal imports, meat and dairy products from the European Union (EU) after the disease spread to mainland Europe.

Four thoughts struck me as I mulled the doings in Europe.

  • Thank God for the plate tectonics that put an ocean between the U.S. and Europe.

  • The U.S. programs of disease surveillance and preparedness have thus far proven very effective.

  • The European experience with FMD and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has underscored to domestic and foreign U.S. beef consumers the effectiveness of U.S. protocols and the quality and safety of U.S. products.

  • Yet, despite that sterling record of safety, the FMD situation will increase the call from those same customers for a national system of individual animal identification and trace-back in the U.S.

They're Already Asking For It

Beef importing countries are already asking for such documentation from beef exporting countries, and most are complying in one form or another (see page 20). That competitive pressure will soon make a national system of individual animal identification simply a part of the cost of doing export business.

England's Passport system, which tracks ownership throughout an animal's life and maintains that information in a central data bank, is regarded by some as a model for the U.S. to adopt. Yet, it didn't prevent either the BSE or FMD outbreaks.

The French system, which can even provide beef shoppers with a photo of the family that produced the animal the cut came from, didn't prevent a French animal health crisis, either.

What they both do, however, is provide an avenue through which trace-back can be easily accomplished. That's a huge factor in boosting perceived value to beef consumers.

This isn't a new issue for the U.S. beef industry. It's taken on renewed life, however, after USDA began hinting a couple of years ago that the agency would consider mandating a national ID system if the industry didn't act on its own.

Developing such a system in the U.S. won't be easy. The U.S. beef industry has no clear-cut understanding of what a system should encompass and how it could and would be administered. That doesn't mean, however, that the industry shouldn't be working on those issues.

Beginning on page 8, BEEF editorial staff has laid out more than eight pages of coverage on the individual animal ID issue. We summarize the issue, the concerns and the costs, and outline the programs in place or under development in other countries. We've also sought out various industry segment leaders for their thoughts on the ID issue.

ID is more than just putting a tag in an animal's ear at birth. There are tremendous logistic and accuracy issues to be addressed in administering a program to almost 100 million head of cattle. There are serious privacy and liability issues for producers, as well.

The fact is the system will come, with or without the blessing of every U.S. beef producer. Such a system, designed with performance data gathering and analysis as its central purpose, could be a valuable tool in further building U.S. genetic efficiency and end-product quality.

Cattle producers need to take a lead role in devising a system that will not only assure consumers of U.S. beef as to its safety, but serve the needs of U.S. beef producers as well.

I'm saddened to announce the departure of Wayne Bollum as publisher of BEEF. Over his 11-year tenure, Wayne built a stellar record of accomplishment, both in the business ledger and in service to the beef industry. He will be missed as a professional and a friend. We wish him all the best.

Replacing Wayne is a familiar face, however. Ron Sorensen, a South Dakota native with more than 20 years in agricultural publishing, also will serve as publisher of BEEF sister publications Hay & Forage Grower, National Hog Farmer, Farm Industry News and Soybean Digest. Welcome aboard, Ron.