Tracking beef from the field to your dinner plate

Thursday, January 15th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Do you know where the meat on your dinner table originally came from? Odds are you don't, but that's about to change under a law going into effect in a few months. News on 6 reporter Heather Johnson explains how it works.

It’s called country of origin labeling, or COOL and it'll let you know where the beef you buy came from. One part of the plan is to track cattle and other livestock all the way back to the ranch they were raised on. Some say it's a sure way to fight the spread of disease, others say it's a costly waste of time.

Dr Dale Blasi with Kansas State University: "We missed the asteroid there's no question about it. We’re very fortunate I believe today, there's no question our foreign markets have been damaged."

In the wake of the first mad cow scare in the US, beef safety has been on the minds of many. How to assure customers it's okay to buy a steak is just part of the plan discussed at this regional beef cattle conference.

A key factor will be the country of origin law, which goes into effect in September. Country of origin labeling means about 9 months from now you'll be able to walk into your grocery store, pick up a steak and tell from the label whether or not it was produced in the US.

In fact, there will likely be a tracking system designed to go all the way back to the original producer of that animal. The law affects beef, pork and lamb, while the labeling becomes mandatory in September; some producers are already doing it. Federal experts are proposing a step further, a new tracking system, which would place a chip in the cow’s ear, monitoring its ownership from birth to the slaughterhouse.

Dr Dale Blasi: “It's a watershed change for our producers it's in effect a social security system for our animals."

If contact with a disease is suspected, the origin could be found in a national database within 48 hours. Some producers say the threat with US beef is so minimal, the added paperwork and cost isn't worth it. Others say such a trail is a step in the right direction. Jeff Lentz, Oklahoma cattle producer: "It'll be kind of hard to get it going cause a lot of people will be like aw, heck we don't need that, but I think it'll be a good deal anything that'll get confidence built up in our consumers."

The US Animal Identification Plan starts with beef, and eventually will extend to other livestock, poultry and fish. It is still in the planning stages and officials are welcoming comments through January from cattle producers.

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