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Barbara Masters, VP Regulatory Policy, Food and Agriculture, Tyson Foods
More than ever before, today’s consumer wants to know where their food comes from and that it was raised sustainably and humanely. Four in five consumers surveyed for Tyson Foods’ internal research last year indicated that knowing where their beef came from was important to them. Roughly half wanted the ability to trace their food back to the specific ranch or even animal it came from.
In today’s complicated world, consumers want to know that they can trust the products they buy. According to the 2021 Power of Meat study, one third of meat shoppers seek out items that address sustainability, animal welfare and social responsibility. Traceability has the potential to boost sales, food safety and consumer confidence. An increased focus on transparency through traceability provides myriad benefits to both consumers and processors. Tyson Foods has taken several steps to increase traceability in its supply chain over the years.
In 2018, Tyson demonstrated its commitment to supply chain transparency as the first beef processor to license the Progressive Beef program, a comprehensive quality management system designed for cattle feeding operations that sell to companies like Tyson. Progressive Beef covers all aspects of day-to-day cattle care. Cattle feeding operators certified in the program follow best practices for animal welfare, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and environmental sustainability. All of these practices are verified twice per year by both USDA-approved auditors and a representative of Progressive Beef. This progressive cattle management system heightens accountability and live animal transparency.
The following year, Tyson began using DNA Traceback® by IdentiGEN for its Open Prairie® Natural* Meats brand to trace beef from the ranch of origin to the restaurant or retailer where it is sold. DNA traceability can be thought of as nature’s bar code and can trace product back to its place of origin at any point in the supply chain. DNA Traceback is the backbone of trust for the Open Prairie Natural Meats program. For those consumers who want to find out more about how to pinpoint the birthplace of each animal, the Trusted PathTM program gives them the reason to believe.
In addition, Tyson is working to verify sustainable beef production practices on more than 5 million acres of cattle grazing land in the U.S. This would be the largest beef transparency program in the U.S., and part of Tyson Foods’ focus on sustainably feeding the world while taking care of people, planet and animals. Working with Where Food Comes From, the largest provider of certification and verification services to the food industry, Tyson Foods will source cattle from BEEFCARE™-verified beef producers who are committed to raising cattle using practices that positively impact the land and animals.
Increasing traceability through initiatives like these have benefits for the processor as well. In 2021, Tyson Foods became the first beef processor to invest in a cattle disease traceability program, CattleTrace. U.S. CattleTrace utilizes ear tags that contain ultra-high frequency technologies to collect the minimal data necessary, including an individual animal identification number, a GPS location, and date and time. This information is used to track animals in the event of a disease outbreak and allows tracking of the animal from location of birth and to each location they travel prior to reaching a processor for harvest. An electronic chip within the tag interacts with the radio frequency emitted by the reader. Though the tags are electronic, they are not battery operated, meaning they can last the lifetime of the animal.
Blockchain technology or “electronic ledgers” are another tool that has been discussed with increasing frequency. This tool is important for traceability; however, it is only one cog in the traceability wheel. To be successful, the necessary data must be gathered, connected, and funneled into the ledger. The funneling point is the easy part of this process. The challenge exists in understanding what data to collect and how the data is connected throughout the supply chain process.
"According to the 2021 Power of Meat study, one-third of meat shoppers seek out items that address sustainability, animal welfare, and social responsibility"
Understanding which data to collect in order to successfully implement blockchain technology becomes much easier once you have a transparent line of sight to the entire supply chain at every step in the process. This increased visibility allows the team to spot costly mishaps like product shrink and lost value. For most, this becomes the “a-ha” moment that illuminates the value proposition of investing in such technology for traceability, beyond providing clarity for consumers. The enhanced efficiency and visibility thus allows for incorporation of innovation and technology previously thought to be out of reach.
These are examples of where traceability advancements in our beef supply are rapidly advancing. These enhanced traceability initiatives are a way to further verify and build trust in an already world-class system, internally and externally. Experience has demonstrated that when everyone wins, both the consumer and the processor, advances move more rapidly. Now that the new efforts are demonstrating their value, the ability to be creative and find new solutions is infinite, solidifying trust and increasing transparency up and down the supply chain.