Poll Finds Consumers Would Feel Safer With Mandatory Animal ID System

KENILWORTH, N.J. -- Consumers would potentially become even more confident in the safety and security of the nation's meat and poultry supply if a mandatory National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is implemented, according to results of a recent poll conducted for Global Animal Management, Inc. (GAM).

The United States Agriculture Department's much-discussed NAIS proposal calls for mandatory reporting of the movements of cattle, hogs, poultry, and other meat-producing livestock by January 2009.

The GAM-sponsored survey polled 1,000 U.S. consumers in mid-May, finding that while consumers already have considerable confidence in the nation's meat and poultry supply, confidence levels could jump even higher should NAIS be put in place.

More than 37 percent of respondents said their current meat safety confidence is high -- at least 8 on a 10-point scale (1=not confident -10=very confident) -- while 10 percent of respondents rated their confidence as low (1-3).

Overall, current consumer confidence in the meat supply averaged 6.5 on a 10-point scale. According to the survey, if NAIS were to be implemented, average consumer confidence in meat safety and security would jump to 7.4. Nearly 55 percent of those polled said their confidence would then be high (8-10), and those who said their confidence would remain low (1-3) declined to less than 4 percent.

"We are glad to know that consumers feel good about the integrity of the meat and poultry supply -- as they should," said Jim Heinle, president of GAM. "The industry at all levels has worked hard to protect animal health and provide safe products. This survey shows that the ability to trace livestock diseases through a national identification system may be a tool to raise consumer confidence even further."

The GAM-sponsored poll shows that consumers may be even more confident in meat and poultry safety if participation in NAIS is mandatory, rather than voluntary. On the same 10-point scale, average consumer confidence is 7.5 under a mandatory system, compared with 5.8 for a voluntary one. Fifty-eight percent of consumers polled said they would be highly confident (8-10) if NAIS is required, compared with only 28.1 percent who said they would feel highly confident if the system is optional.

"An additional step that is mandatory will increase their confidence," noted Dr. John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center. "This research showed that confidence in the current system and NAIS seemed to increase with age, education and income."

The study's sponsor, a leading provider of animal and premises ID systems and a wholly owned subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp., evidently stands to gain a windfall of business with a nationally implemented trace-back system. On the other hand, while it will be difficult to predict what impact NAIS implementation would have on consumer behavior, a proactive approach is being advocated by several industry stalwarts, including Texas A&M University, whose 51st beef cattle short course in early Aug. will provide an update on the system and information on how producers can receive premiums for source-verified cattle.

Dr. Larry Boleman, assistant deputy vice chancellor at Texas A&M and conference coordinator, believes beef producers must know about animal identification to remain profitable in the near future. "With the rapid advancement of technology, the U.S. beef industry is constantly changing to improve efficiency and the quality of beef. Consumers are demanding a safe, wholesome, quality product. And, as a result, retailers are beginning to pay premiums for beef from source-verified cattle," said Boleman.

Foreign markets are applying extra pressure the beef industry to provide age- or source-verified meat from cattle or both, Boleman said, noting that about 10 percent of U.S. produced beef is exported to foreign markets. Identifying cattle, as well as managing the information head on, are key factors to facing these issues head-on, he noted.
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