From Resolution to Reality: The Process of Approving Traceability Policy

From Resolution to Reality: The Process of Approving Traceability Policy 

Editorial by SDCA President Warren Symens

I recently attended the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Cattle Industry Convention in Orlando, FL. Before going, I studied the many pages of proposed new policy and amendments to old policy. One policy topic jumped out at me right away – as I’m sure it did to many of you, too – animal disease traceability, electronic identification (EID), and to what extent NCBA would support its use if required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to meet traceability goals. My first thought was, “oh boy, this is going to be a long Cattle Health and Wellbeing committee meeting.”

The traceability issue isn’t about marketing, per se, it isn’t about control, or about selling data. It’s about tracing a disease in the shortest time possible to put a stop to something before entire states get shut down, cattle shipping ceases, or worse, we start putting down cattle like hog and poultry producers have had to do.

Like any policy consideration, I went to the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s (SDCA) policy book and looked at our resolutions related to traceability and mandatory ID to guide how our delegation would vote in committee. I confirmed that the SDCA couldn’t support the NCBA policy proposed as drafted. The SDCA policy created by our members supports mandatory ID of all breeding cattle and only encourages voluntary ID of all cattle. 

The NCBA proposed policy as written expanded mandatory ID and supported the use of EID further than our policy allowed. I discussed with the SDCA board directors that we couldn’t support the policy as drafted, but also assured everyone not to lose sleep over it for now because it will change multiple times before it’s voted on in the committee meeting. Trust the process. And you know what, the process worked. The state affiliates that proposed the resolution heard from their members, and from others states around the country. The language was ultimately amended until it was presented in a way that mirrors what everyone’s policy agreed on: that we support the USDA’s current proposed rule that would require EID for only breeding cattle across state lines. The adopted NCBA policy went on to encourage the government to pay for the implementation of the tracing process, ask that the data be held outside of bureaucracy by an independent party, and recognize that they must work to educate producers on the methods and reasons for that implementation.

This probably won’t be the last word on this issue. Let’s go back to the reason for the proposed new policy – to trace a disastrous disease outbreak as quickly as possible. Someday all cattle will need to be identified and we must have infrastructure in place to collect and read the data. These regulatory programs take time, and input, from all of us as producers to be successful.

My point is, if these issues are important to you or you take issue with policy being proposed at NCBA, or at the state level, talk to a board member or the SDCA’s executive director. Or, better yet, write policy that is thoughtful, educated, and has the potential for support. Propose that policy at the SDCA state convention (after first becoming a member of SDCA) and trust the process. When we represent you at the national level, we then have that piece of policy in our hands to vote the way the state’s membership directs. If you also become an NCBA member, we have that much more power to represent South Dakota members.

The first and best way to handle any potentially controversial issue is to be present, involved, and in the fight to get it right and secure the future of the nation’s cow herd. I believe in being proactive, rather than reactive, and I appreciate all guidance from membership to help take things that direction.