Used to be the word of a reputable individual was enough to seal any deal — and it still is in some cases. From an industry standpoint though, the consumer is demanding more than a handshake to assure the quality and safety of their beef.

This demand is at the heart of ID-based verification programs like USDA's Quality Systems Assurance and Process-Verified Programs. These programs can be used to provide consumers with auditable assurance that the beef they purchased came from cattle of a certain age or breed, for instance, or simply that the cattle producing the beef can be traced back to a specific point in the production system.

This same assurance is also at the core of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Animal health officials can trace most animals back to their destinations if need be. They can't necessarily do it quickly, however, and they can't always find the peers that resided with a particular animal along the way.

The notion with NAIS is that a standardized system with tagging required by government and/or the market will be more reliable. That's because there will be a record of which tag numbers were issued to which producers, and when they were issued. Plus, the whereabouts of an animal will be reported anytime it changes.

Like it or not, consumers and nations are demanding this additional proof of integrity for the same reason it's always been easier for seedstock producers to trade bulls with documented pedigrees from a known breed registry.

For long-term success, seedstock producers need a sterling reputation, competitive cattle, performance records, genetic prediction tools and all of the rest. But most buyers also require a pedigree, not because they doubt the breeder's integrity but because third-party documentation of the bull's heritage adds to the integrity of the transaction.

Add integrity to the transaction

So it goes with NAIS and third-party verification programs that depend on individual animal ID. Besides accomplishing the intent of a particular program — 48-hour traceback in the case of NAIS, for example — such programs add integrity to the transaction because they imply proof of a particular claim from someone other than the seller or owner.

Ironically, when you sift through all the rules, regulations and bureaucracy, these kinds of programs, and NAIS itself, will still boil down to someone's word. Moreover, standards for acceptable rates of failure are still lacking.

What percentage of cattle must be traceable for NAIS to be deemed practical? In other words, how accurate is the assurance supposed to be? Yet, consumers around the world are making these types of programs as necessary as pedigrees.

Consumers here have only begun to clamor for it. In the BEEF survey results included on page 6, 21% of the respondents report buyers are asking for age verification, and 25% say buyers are asking for source verification. Only 45% report that buyers are paying more for this verification.

With that in mind, through this industry transition, while hope and want-to outweighs the jingle being paid for assuming added liability, be careful what forms and affidavits you sign when a buyer asks.

More buyers will ask for it

ore buyers surely will be asking because there's every reason to believe more consumers will demand it. If not the consumers, then those who sell them beef.

Remember a few years ago when Wal-Mart informed its 100 largest suppliers that doing business with them would require being able to tag and track their goods electronically? At the time, RFID Journal reported Wal-Mart is adoption of RFID for order fulfillment, tracking and inventory control would save the company $8.35 billion before taxes. At the beginning of this year, the retail giant announced it would begin making the same demand of its next largest suppliers.

McDonald's has been more than public about its efforts to purchase a growing percentage of source-verified beef. More than 10% of the company's domestic supply was source-verified last year. And, Japan has made age-verification a condition of sale for U.S. beef exports.

The need for NAIS to protect the nation's herd grows each day with every international flight that touches down. You can bet against the continued and accelerating pace of ID and trace-back evolution if you want to, but the odds are stacked in favor of the house.

Henry Ford is quoted as advising, “Integrity is crucial for business success. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.” Whether he was sincere or intended it tongue in cheek, consumer demands will leave little room for such wonderment when it comes to ID and traceback.