Certified beef program aims to bring more profit

Certified beef program aims to bring more profit By Susan Smith South Dakota produces the best beef in the world and now it�s time to prove it, Gov. Mike Rounds said March 17.

Rounds spoke to about 200 people attending a value-added agriculture conference in Brookings March 17.

�We can produce the commodity � beef in South Dakota,� Rounds said. �What we want to do is add value to our product.�

Lawmakers passed a bill during the 2005 Legislature authorizing the South Dakota Certified Beef Program. Producers will raise beef based on certain criteria and the state will certify and verify the process.

That beef will then be marketed with a special South Dakota Certified Seal. An electronic animal identification system will trace the animal�s origins and ensure the safety and quality of the meat produced, Rounds said.

�We�re committed to raising the standard of beef produced in this state and making sure that consumers around the world know it,� Rounds said.

Since last summer the state has conducted a pilot program with a small number of producers who raised their beef according to the program�s criteria. The first of those animals are nearly ready to go to market, Rounds� spokesman Mark Johnston said.

Paperwork was filed several months ago with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to secure the program�s seal, Johnston said. The governor�s staff is now waiting for word of official approval. Once that happens the seal will apply internationally and in the United States, he said.

Johnston said the state is working with five or so small locker plants that are interested in being able to process the meat. South Dakota Certified Beef could be available to consumers by June, he said.

Annually 1.5 million cattle are exported from this state and with them go the profits, Rounds said.

�It�s time we changed that practice,� he said.

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Larry Gabriel is on a trade mission to Japan where interest is high in the certified beef program, Rounds said. People there want to be able to trace an animal�s origin to find out how it was raised and harvested, especially how old it was at the time.

More cattle being processed in the state means more money for its economy.

�There�s too much opportunity not to feed our livestock within our state and process our livestock within our state. When that begins the profits will go where they belong,� Rounds said.

The South Dakota Certified Beef Program is branding in its purest form, Rounds said. He wants South Dakota Certified Beef to one day have the reputation of acknowledged high quality products like Maine lobsters or Florida oranges. He thinks the program can expand to include other products like wheat and turkeys.

Members of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association have been branding the beef they produce for generations and some have reservations about a program that requires an electronic identification instead of time-tested hot branding, said Carrie Longwood, the group�s executive director.

�A lot of our members brand all of their calves and you know it�s their belief that that brand is just as credible if not more credible than the identification program in proving they have South Dakota born and raised cattle,� Longwood said.

Many producers that already brand cattle won�t use the identification system required by the certified beef program, Longwood said. The system�s cost and time to administer have discouraged those producers who brand their calves on the ranch the animals were born. That eliminates some large runs of cattle West River, Longwood said.

The identification program is supposed to ensure consumers that the beef they are buying was raised in South Dakota and is safe to eat. Rounds used a scenario when speaking at the value-added ag conference that described how a consumer could use information from a package of meat to trace through the Internet a certain animal back to the ranch on which it was raised.

Rounds said his program goes beyond country of origin meat labeling and could ultimately be considered ranch of origin labeling.

But more than food safety Longwood said consumers are looking for quality products to purchase, and the hot brand is just as good as an animal identification system in that respect.

�I think quality is going to play a lot more into it than their ability to get on the Internet and see a picture of the animal,� she said. �I think a consumer that buys a good beef product is going to want to go back and buy that same product. It�s the label.�

She�d like some of the technicalities of the program to be improved to include more cattle producers.

However Longwood�s group is optimistic that the new program will expand cattle markets and bring a new buyer to the marketplace.

�We are very hopeful that the program works well,� she said. We�re encouraged by the new ideas that are being brought up. We�re most encouraged at the governor�s interest in labeling and promoting South Dakota cattle. That�s a great thing no matter how you look at it.�

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