Monday's confirmation of a third U.S. case of BSE shows clearly the overriding importance of immediately establishing a mandatory national identification system in the United States.
"Sadly the U.S. industry has not bitten the bullet and accepted the need for a compulsory system rather than voluntary system at this point," says Cattle Buyers Weekly editor and publisher Steve Kay in an exclusive interview with Farm Progress.
"Registration of livestock breeds is very slow." Wisconsin and N. Carolina are the only states that require compulsory registration on the premises. Indiana will require it as of Sept. 1. Texas, which by far has the largest cattle population, keeps postponing its decision about making registration compulsory."
Without a national ID system Kay says USDA will find it impossible to trace cattle involved in this and future BSE cases. He says the concern among many U.S. processors and producers is that "Japan, S. Korea and other U.S. trading partners, don't react negatively to the mere fact we have another case. We don't know whether Japan or South Korea will make an issue of that or not. We hope they don't."
And as for establishing the Alabama cow's true age, "We don't know yet, but it may be impossible for USDA to actually verify the animal's age through birth records," says Kay. For unless the cow was purebred and actually had records, tracing it and its offspring back to the farm of origin could prove impossible.
"I think the case really again points to the urgent need for a compulsory national identification system. And yet, that system seems years away."
If the cow was born before the feed ban was established in 1997 it could have contracted BSE because of contaminated feed. Had the animal been born sometime after the feed ban it would raise issues about efficacy of the ban.
For U.S. packers BSE has meant plant closures and consolidation. At least nine beef packing plants have shut down since the summer of 2003. Seven killed either all or some cows. Fed cattle processors may have lost as much as $700 million in 2004 and 2005, according to market consultants HedgersEdge.com. Last Friday, National Beef Packing, the fourth largest processor, announced it is buying Brawley Beef, the ninth largest. Kay called Brawley Beef "a brave effort by cattle feeders to establish and run a successful meat operation that seemingly became too much of a financial strain."