The U.S. beef cattle and livestock industries need standardized national animal identification.

Forget the emotion and misinformation surrounding USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Ignore whether the system should be mandatory. Disregard USDA’s bumbling, fumbling, on-again, off-again implementation approach.

Standardized national animal identification is needed immediately to enhance disease surveillance and serve as a stopgap that would enable quicker containment of an outbreak of virulent animal disease, such as foot and mouth. Down the road such a system will likely be a requirement of international market access.

With enough producer participation, the system could return more than it costs, too, according to the “Benefit-Cost Analysis of the National Animal Identification System” report released by USDA this spring (see the report at www.usda.gov/nais/naislibrary/plans.shtml).

Researchers describe several scenarios and levels of producer participation based upon either bookend traceability or full traceability.

Bookend traceability refers to identifying livestock individually (or as lifetime production groups where appropriate) at the point of origin and termination; no animal movement traced in between. Full traceability is identifying and tracking animals from the time they leave their home of origin to their terminal destination.

Bookend ID and tracking would cost an average of $3.92/beef cow, according to the report; $4.22/cow for full traceability. Stocker producers and backgrounders would incur an average cost of 23¢/head for bookend identification and tracking, 71¢/head for full traceability (Table 1). Though significantly more than chump change, the costs pale compared to the potential losses and gains associated with too little livestock identification and traceability.

“We are likely to lose export market access over time if we do not adopt NAIS practices, even without any major market or major animal disease event, because the international marketplace is making animal identification and tracing systems the norm and any country that does not conform will have less market access,” say the researchers.

“If we do nothing and we lose market access, which we believe is likely, the beef industry will suffer losses,” say report authors. “The losses would amount to $18.25/head if we do not adopt NAIS and we lose 25% of export market share (Table 2). To put this into perspective, this would be about like losing access to the South Korean export market at 2003 export market shares.”

Matched to varying degrees of full identification and traceability potential, the lost market share declines as the adoption rate increases. Ultimately, say the authors, “A 23% increase in beef export demand would completely pay for 70% adoption of full animal identification and tracing in the U.S. beef herd over a 10-year period. No other benefits beyond these would be necessary to make the investment in NAIS economically viable.”

Quibble with the numbers all you want. The question is simple: Do the industry and the nation – for the purposes of national security – need a standardized national animal identification system to enhance disease surveillance, more quickly contain the outbreak of virulent animal disease and ensure market access?

If the answer is yes, then the industry needs to get on with sorting through the details and demanding USDA listen and become a worthy partner in the process. If the answer is no, it’s time to knock the notion in the head once and for all.

Table 1. Average annualized adoption costs of NAIS per animal.
Species/segment Units Bookend Full tracing
Beef cow ($/cow) $3.919 $4.220
Dairy cow ($/cow) $2.468 $3.433
Backgrounding ($/hd sold) $0.233 $0.710
Feedlot ($/hd sold) $0.204 $0.509
Auction markets ($/hd/sold) $0.000 $0.230
Beef packers ($/hd/sold) $0.099 $0.099


Table 2. Average annualized adoption costs of NAIS per animal.
Export market loss (%) Export market loss ($/head sold)
10% -$7.31
25% -$18.25
50% -$36.47

-- Wes Ishmael