A few years ago, when bovine tuberculosis was causing concern as it spread through cattle, Michigan State University researchers used radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that allowed cattle to be tracked, thus keeping tabs on the disease. Michigan led the country in mandating RFID ear tags to track the movement of cattle.
Today MSU researchers are using their expertise to take that same RFID system and use it in creative ways that benefit both the consumer and the producer.
MSU Department of Animal Science associate professor and MSU Extension beef specialist Dan Buskirk, MSU Extension educator Jeannine Schweihofer, and Department of Animal Science assistant professor and MSU Extension beef specialist Jason Rowntree are working on developing a local model for beef production using the RFID system. Partnering with MSU Culinary Services, a department of MSU Residential and Hospitality Services, the three Extension professionals and their teams are behind the process that allows the serving of MSU-raised and processed beef at cafeterias and restaurants on the MSU campus. The cattle come from the MSU Purebred Beef Cow-Calf Teaching and Research Center and the MSU Beef Cattle Research and Teaching Center.
The pilot project takes advantage of RFID technology to track the animals. Eventually, the teams hope to develop a system in which the RFID code from each cow is transferred to a barcode on the final package of beef that you’d find in your grocery store freezer. Shoppers could then scan the code using a kiosk or smart phone. In an instant, the consumer would learn where that particular cut of meat came from and how the animal was raised. The researchers are working on perfecting the process, which is made more complicated by the volume of packages that can come from one single cow.
Rather than “Where’s the beef?” today’s consumer’s cry is usually “Where did this beef come from?” More and more, savvy consumers want to know whether the food they will prepare for their families is locally grown and whether it’s local or not, some want to know what farming practices were used. Expanding the traceability of meat could create new opportunities for consumers interested in buying locally and knowing how the animals supplying their meat were raised. It allows producers to communicate information to consumers instantly and more widely, and in doing so perhaps achieve a higher value-added price for the product.
At the time RFID tags were required on cattle in Michigan, there was considerable controversy and opposition to the move. Yet Dan and the team have taken what started out as something viewed negatively by some producers into an opportunity to add value to their product through use of technology.
The Associated Press picked up the story, and it has been getting quite a bit of attention. Click here to read the Associated Press article as it appears in the Washington Post. The story includes photos. That’s a pretty effective way of showing what’s new about MSUE!
Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications produced the following related videos:
In this video, Dan Buskirk explains RFID tracking:
This video features the MSU Local Beef Initiative making MSU-raised beef available in MSU cafeterias: