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Published October 11, 2011, 09:29 AM

Safer beef, better prices?

Justin Brown says his company has an electronic system that can ensure the quality and safety of U.S. beef. He also says his business can improve the profits and protect the privacy of U.S. cattle producers.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Justin Brown says his company has an electronic system that can ensure the quality and safety of U.S. beef. He also says his business can improve the profits and protect the privacy of U.S. cattle producers.

Brown, a Florida cattleman, is president of the web-based My Herd’s Protected, which “provides real-time livestock tracking” that allows simple and accurate testing, treating and tracing,” as the company puts it.

The thinking is, consumers will pay extra for beef with a safe, traceable history, Brown says.

He’s optimistic that his company, now operating primarily in Florida and California, can make its mark nationwide.

“We really think this can spread across the country,” he says.

My Herd’s Protected, using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, allows ranchers, transporters and veterinarians to track and trace diseases and vaccinations associated with the cattle industry, according to the company.

First, animals are tagged, vaccinated and tested for the rancher of origin. Later, the tag is scanned electronically every time the animal changes hands, according to information from the company.

Members’ private information is stored on the company’s database. The government can have access to members’ info in two ways, according to the company’s web site:

- If an outbreak and quarantining is necessary. The company promises to provide only the information that’s “absolutely necessary in stopping further spreading of a destructive disease.”

- The company is subpoenaed.

The company charges no fee to join or remain a member. MPH ear tags cost $1.99.

My Herd’s Protected also hopes to earn online revenue from what Brown calls a “major marketing matrix” that’s being developed.

Different meanings

Traceability means different things to different things to different people, says Jason Schmidt, a Medina, N.D., rancher, and president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, who adds that he isn’t familiar with My Herd’s Protected.

Cattle producers view traceability as a marketing tool, while veterinarians view it as way to improve food safety, Schmidt says.

He also notes that, in general, younger cattle producers are much more likely than older ones to adopt new technologies.

Cattlemen on the Northern Plains have strong, deep ties to branding and don’t want to give it up, he adds.

Brown says his company prefers RFID but can accept branding and metal ear tags.

“It will be essential to keep the metal tags and play for continuous traceability,” Brown says.

The marketplace will determine how cattle producers respond to the traceability issue, says Carl Dahlen, extension beef cattle specialist with the North Dakota State University Animal Sciences Department in Fargo.

“We need to give our consumers, our customers, what they want,” he says.

Big issue in industry

Traceability is a hot topic in the cattle industry this fall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has proposed a new animal disease traceability system. The public comment period ends Nov. 9, and it’s expected that a decision won’t be reached until next year.

My Herd’s Protected wants to become an “extension” of USDA traceability, while protecting rancher privacy, Brown says.

The company can’t predict how it will be affected until USDA’s ruling comes out, he says.

Meantime, the company is working to educate ranchers about its system, he says.

Information

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