A majority (69%) of BEEF magazine readers responding to an October electronic survey believe a national system of individual animal ID and traceback is needed in the U.S. for health monitoring purposes. And, more than 55% believe such a national system should be mandatory.

That may sound like a resounding vote of confidence for USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS), with which almost 90% of respondents to a BEEF magazine reader survey indicate they are “familiar” or “somewhat familiar.” But, wait a minute.

Just 25.7% of the 836 survey respondents indicated they favor NAIS as proposed. Another 29.3% said they aren't in favor, while a healthy 41.4% claim they've yet to form an opinion.

When BEEF conducted a similar electronic survey of readers last June, 76% of respondents said a national system of individual animal ID and traceback was needed in the U.S. for health monitoring purposes. And 63% indicated such a system should be mandatory.

The October survey was e-mailed to 16,223 readers of BEEF magazine and data was collected Oct. 25-31. The e-mail survey generated 836 completed surveys, an effective response rate of 5.15%

“The survey results provide an interesting snapshot of BEEF readers with e-mail access,” says Scott Grau, research manager, citing a survey margin of error of plus or minus 4-4½%. “While the results provide an interesting glimpse at what this particular segment is thinking, the survey sample consists of larger-scale producers who are generally more technically advanced than the beef industry as a whole.”

In the October survey, 38.3% of respondents indicated they'd registered their livestock premises with their state or tribal animal-health authority, while 58.9% said they had not. Of those with unregistered premises, 37.4% planned to wait until premises registration becomes mandatory Jan. 1, 2008.

Another 23% indicated their inaction is due to unfamiliarity with the program, while 18.7% said they've been too busy. As of Nov. 7, USDA reported a total of 147,205 premises had been registered.

Of BEEF survey respondents with unregistered premises, 27% planned to register their premises in the next six months, while 27.8% did not; 41.5% said they didn't know.

A whopping 73.7% of producers reported they individually ID their cattle “with a system other than hot-iron brand or some other group method.” That compares to the June BEEF study where 83.4% said they individually identify their cattle, but the question did not include the qualifier “with a system other than hot-iron brand or some other group method.”

In the October survey, only 14% of those who said they individually ID their cattle reported using electronic ID (EID) tags. A total of 84.4% said they did not use EID.

Moving too fast?

USDA's Draft Strategic Plan calls for all livestock premises to be registered by Jan. 1, 2008, and all cattle entering commerce to be identified individually with official NAIS tags by the same date. The plan also stipulates that all animal movements must be reported beginning Jan. 1, 2009.

When asked about the aggressiveness of this NAIS implementation timetable, 57.5% responded that it was “reasonable.” Another 20.1% thought it was “too fast,” while 13.4% found it “too slow.” A total of 9% had no answer.

In regard to respondents' single biggest concern with NAIS, 48.3% cited the cost of the program and labor requirements for producers, while 21.2% named the confidentiality of data. Another 13.3% cited the potential for liability for producers, and 10% said they had no concerns.

Since issuing its NAIS Draft Strategic Plan in May, USDA reversed course Aug. 30 to allow private industry to build and maintain the animal movement database rather than USDA. A total of 46.1% of respondents support this decision, while 24.3% do not, and another 20.7% didn't know.

That's emblematic of the industry split over this facet of NAIS. For instance, on Nov. 9, animal health officials and industry representatives passed a resolution during their annual meeting urging USDA to return to its original plan for a public database as part of NAIS.

The U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA), comprised of national livestock groups and state and federal animal health officials, passed a resolution challenging USDA's Aug. 30 policy reversal. Specifically, the USAHA resolution “urges” USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service “to implement the animal tracking database for disease surveillance and monitoring as initially outlined in the NAIS plan.”

Spurring passage of the resolution was word that USDA, in fact, has a tracking system already in place but no current plans to use it, reported Meghan Soderstrom, Angus Productions Inc.

“Yes, we have a tracking system. It is part of the system USDA helped fund in the Wisconsin Livestock Consortium,” said John Clifford, USDA Veterinary Services.

According to the report, Clifford said USDA could implement that system “relatively quickly.”

“But,” he added, “having said that, I'm not going to put that system out there, not unless I get instructions [from USDA Secretary Mike Johanns] to do so.”

The USAHA resolution also directs USAHA's president to assemble a group of industry stakeholders to meet with Johanns to discuss solutions.

Should NAIS include packers?

As proposed by USDA, NAIS data will be accessible only to state and federal animal health officials in event of an animal health emergency. But 34.8% of respondents believe NAIS data, such as premises of origin and animal birth dates, also should be accessible to meat processors and purveyors for the purposes of verifying source and age for eligibility for export markets.

A total of 39.4% said processors and purveyors should not have access to the information, while 17.2% didn't know.

Similar to the June survey, a big majority of respondents intend to go beyond the mandatory aspects of NAIS to voluntarily capture other individual performance data on their animals in order to make better-informed management decisions for their herd, or to take advantage of other value-added opportunities. A total of 67.3% of respondents indicated they would do this, while 9.3% didn't have such plans.

Last June, 76.9% indicated they'd do so, while 7.6% said they didn't plan to do so.

A majority of producers reported that calf buyers aren't currently asking for ID-based verification information. Only 20.8% of respondents reported buyers asking for age verification on calf purchases, while 24.8% said buyers were asking for source verification.

But, are buyers of such verified calves paying more for documented animals? “No,” said 50.9% of respondents, while 45.3% reported premiums are being paid.

Respondents (41%) listed “receiving higher prices for livestock” as the main expectation for their program of a mandatory ID program. “Disease control and prevention” was second with 39.6%, and “improve management practices” was third at 34.3%. Not far behind was “have a market for my livestock” with 27.4%. And, 7.1% of respondents indicated they planned to leave the livestock business.

Regarding confidentiality of data, a whopping 73.7% of respondents said they would support legislation to protect NAIS data from access via the Freedom of Information Act. Another 11.1% said they didn't favor such legislation.

Of the 836 respondents to the electronic survey, 49.2% reported being members of a state cattlemen's organization, while 24.3% cited a National Cattlemen's Beef Association membership. R-CALF memberships were cited by 12.8% of survey respondents.

Survey plumbs producer attitudes toward NAIS

In mid October, an electronic survey was e-mailed to 16,223 BEEF magazine subscribers to gauge their attitudes to the developing National Animal Identification System (NAIS). A total of 836 completed surveys were returned, for an effective response rate of 5.15%.

The survey was a followup to an earlier survey conducted last spring. Those results were reported in the July issue of BEEF.

BEEF introduces idcattle.com

This month, BEEF magazine introduces its newest directed-information source for the U.S. beef industry. Called idcattle.com, the Web site is designed to be a one-stop shop for U.S. beef producers seeking information specifically related to cattle ID technologies and the essential components of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

The Web site contains a wealth of material surrounding the topic of individual animal ID. In addition to a compilation of articles on animal ID and recordkeeping gathered from a variety of university sources, there's information related to the individual components of electronic ID and how it works.

At idcattle.com, you'll also find links to the most important animal ID resources. Among these are the exclusive BEEF magazine-Kansas State University (KSU) listings of providers of radio-frequency ID services and equipment — both hardware and software.

The ID Web site is the latest addition to BEEF magazine's library of focused information Web sites. Others include www.beefcowcalf.com, a resource on cow-calf production and management information; and www.beefstockerusa.org, a collaborative effort with KSU devoted exclusively to stocker-segment information and research.

Check out idcattle.com and let us know what you think.
Joe Roybal