I’ve had many calls from cow-calf producers over the past year in regards to age verification and premises identification. Many producers don’t understand why this is important, and question the additional cost versus the potential benefit. Of course these producers are thinking of a price benefit rather than industry benefit. Provincial and state governments along with the cattle industry are working together for full traceability. This is in case of a potential disease problem or a natural disaster affecting animals and people. Beef production is undergoing radical changes to suit consumer requirements and it is important that the producer mindset is the same as health and industry officials.
I’ll start off with a personal example. I come from a healthy family that eats cheese and butter. However, I cannot eat butter or cheese. It is not a lactose problem, but the bacteria in the cheese production that causes serious effects on my digestion system. I eat ice cream and drink milk with no problems.
Food safety and nutrition is a large component of beef demand. Beef consumption tends to decrease in proportion to the number of recalls throughout the year. While initial effect can be quite drastic amongst a population region for a two to four week period, there are certain consumers that cut back on beef consumption quite seriously for two to three years.
Scaling health care costs and a deteriorating population health are also main factors driving traceability policy. The bloodlines of each human generation are becoming weaker and weaker. New diseases and bacteria are being discovered every year and certain segments of the population are becoming more susceptible to adverse health effects. As people become older, they also tend to be less immune to certain strains of bacteria. People are becoming more conscience of what they put in their mouths. Obesity and lower immune systems are major problems for beef demand longer term.
The beef industry is also contending with food “ceuticals” which is the use of food to cure a disease or aid a person for a specific health benefit. I read in a recent magazine that a person can send away for a DNA kit. These kits cost between $200 and $1,500; the buyer takes a swab from their cheek or spits into a vial. In two to four weeks you receive your health risks. By knowing your risks, the consumer can choose certain foods to help them lower risks of certain diseases or adverse health effects from certain foods for their particular DNA. It is now within reach that the average person can find out which foods are beneficial or not beneficial for their DNA. Therefore, the consumer wants to know what the animal is fed.
Premis ID is also important in case animals eat certain weeds or maybe strains of a crop that are genetically modified. Certain researchers in Europe have shown strains of genetically modified crops cause negative effects for male sterility. Certain populations in the world are known to have adverse effects to higher metal levels in grains and meats. Water and food quality can be influential in fetal development. There are also unseen micotoxins or microorganisms on certain feedstuffs that have potential to be transferred to humans through the beef production process.
In my view, the federal government would be doing the industry a favour by legislating age verification and premises identification. It is not a matter of getting a premium price for the additional costs but the right for the consumer to have proof of a safe food product. The U. S. is also implementing similar policies and third world countries are coming up to modern industrial standards. It is important that Canadian producers adopt these policies quickly to be competitive on the world market.
Jerry Klassen is a commodity market analyst in Winnipeg and maintains an interest in the family feedlot in southern Alberta. He writes an indepth biweekly commentary called Canadian Feedlot and Cattle Market Analysis for feedlot operators in Western Canada. He can be reached by email at [email protected]or 204 287 8268 for questions or comments.