Plenty to beef about

Plenty to beef about By Denise Watt Pierre � A state beef initiative outlined by Gov. Mike Rounds in his state of the state address Jan. 11 became a source of debate at the first meeting of the joint state-budgeting committee Jan. 12.

�South Dakota Certified Beef is a marketing plan that will add value to feeder cattle, fat cattle and beef,� said Larry Gabriel, state secretary of agriculture.

To participate in the voluntary program, a producer would have to become licensed as raising South Dakota certified calves, he said. Producers would be required to identify calves at their place of birth by implanting an ear tag slightly larger than a quarter.

The tag emits a low-frequency signal when read by a scanner. Animals would be scanned with every change of ownership, with the information stored in a state data system detailing how each animal was raised, fed and processed, Gabriel said.

The issue of a state-operated tracking system is controversial for private companies that offer services that store similar data. Concerns include confidentiality of data and encroachment of government into private business.

�I hope you understand this is a very serious situation,� said Marshall Edleman, a rancher from Willow Lake and head of BeefOrigins, a private data-storage company, who testified at that Jan. 12 budget hearing.

�Private industry can do it on a much more efficient basis and can keep costs down,� he told the committee. �It�s already in place. It�s already running.�

Gabriel said a government verification system is needed, a position supported by State Veterinarian Sam Holland.

�For animal health, government agency is going to be the word,� Holland said. �Hopefully we can work together, private industry and government,� said Edleman.

A $505,000 USDA grant will fund the beef program and its tracking system, Gabriel said.

�We will have the most state of the art tracking … system in the world in the state of South Dakota,� he said.

He called South Dakota Certified Beef a �fee for service, fee for benefit� program. After the initial grant money, he said, support for the program will come from producers.

An agreement with Ag-Info-Link to provide tracking services is currently �contingent� upon funding, the secretary said.

Rounds plans to run a test of the program this summer and says the beef initiative will allow producers to demand higher prices for their products.

�Right now, we�re just kind of in a holding pattern,� Gabriel said.

The majority of today�s consumers want to know where their food originates, Gabriel told the committee.

�We are in the process of applying for a copyrighted mark,� which will feature Mount Rushmore, he said.

South Dakota Certified Beef expands on a program begun under the Janklow administration, said Gabriel. He said the program will �greatly enhance quality of beef.

�The beef will be of course the safest and most wholesome beef in the world.�

The South Dakota product would be available on the Internet and in upscale restaurants and grocery stores, he said.

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