March 01, 2006
The New Brand

As someone who loves a great cheeseburger above almost all else, I think that this idea is a very good one.

In a new twist on cattle branding, U.S. livestock may now get individual identification numbers.

Today in Washington, a nonprofit industry group plans to launch a program that aims to assign each cow, bison and other livestock its own 15-digit number and track their movements in a national database. Animals would be tagged, perhaps in the ear with a bar code or a radio-frequency chip. Another alternative: a chip could be implanted beneath the animal's skin.

The obvious question is, of course, why haven't we been doing this for years? Unique identifiers are common for most other business assets above a certain value. And given the risks beef has presented in the food supply recently (E Coli, Mad Cow, etc.), there's another compelling reason, too.

Litigation-averse producers don't necessarily see it that way. However, the same tort fear is driving large buyers to demand this type of system; I guess they want to be able to indemnify producers when end customers throw down in court.

U.S. ranchers have long resisted an ID tracking program partly because they fear they may be liable for a food-safety problem. But McDonald's Corp. and other large beef customers have been pushing for it. Federal regulators also have been prodding the industry for such a system.

I love it when our legal system actually drives rational behavior.

Posted by Ellen Forman on March 01, 2006 to Food, glorious food | TrackBack

Uh oh. A national ID card for cattle! Big Brother! Where does it stop??? ;-)

Posted by: Tim on March 1, 2006 8:00 PM

As long as they're tagging cattle and not "people," I don't have a problem with it. I RFID my pets, but I sure wouldn't RFID my kids!

As for why it hasn't been done before, RFID technology hasn't existed for that long. And RFID's a must - a unique bar-code in the form of a traditional "brand" would be as long as the cow, and changing the branding iron for each new cow would be a bitch!

I can foresee a few exploits, like injecting RFIDs stolen from a competitor to obscure the animal's origin. (It's also possible to clone RFID tags.) And of course once the animal is butchered, you're back to relying on traditional record-keeping to tie a given piece of meat to a given animal - not to mention the nightmare of trying to trace the origin of a patty of ground beef! So this won't be a panacea. But it could still help make our food safer.

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 2, 2006 5:01 PM

Our ranch has already signed up for the program. I think we start tagging cattle in June.

Posted by: 'stina on March 3, 2006 4:54 PM