Traceability is a comprehensive concept of tracking product through the supply chain. In the case of beef, this includes the cow-calf operation with identification of the dam, growing and finishing phases, harvesting, processing and distribution through to point of sale.
Although there has been considerable controversy over Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) this marketing concept does not incorporate traceability. Currently, it is common practice in the meat industry to commingle muscle cuts and especially for ground meats, which invariably involve label declarations relating to origin, possibly including the U.S., New Zealand, Argentina and Brazil.
“Locally grown” is one of the fast emerging trends in food marketing especially in the higher price categories. In an attempt to replace tobacco as a major source of agricultural income, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has invested in promoting the cow-calf industry. Kentucky is in fact the largest producer of calves in the Eastern U.S. Unfortunately, Kentucky has limited feedlot capacity and does not have any harvesting or processing installations for beef. Traditionally, Kentucky calves have been sold at auction as a commodity with no attempt at product differentiation.
During the late 2000s, Alltech initiated communications with retailers and restaurants to identify a demand for a line of premium Kentucky Proud beef. Critchfield, a long established family-run meat business, added its expertise to the project endorsed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. If calves are reared in Kentucky but finished and harvested out of the state, beef will comply with requirements for the Kentucky Proud designation providing there is complete traceability and verification of origin in Kentucky.
The first approach was to encourage producers to finish calves. This was unsuccessful based on the lack of experience, resources and capital.
In the absence of large qualified Kentucky producers, the project identified Horizon Beef in Sanborn, Iowa, to finish Kentucky-origin calves. This group comprises 15 farm-owned feedlots which had previously adopted a nutrition program incorporating feeding of Alltech products, including BioPlexed trace minerals Yea-Sacc® and the Alltech prebiotic Bio-Mos®. The production chain was completed with appointment of PM Beef in Windom, Minn., to process finished animals. PM Beef harvests 250,000 head per year and is equipped to segregate animals destined for specialty programs.
The first cattle were placed in June 2009 and harvested in November of that year. By maintaining complete traceability, ensuring quality and complying with the program with regard to nutrition, confining stock to the Black Angus breed and ensuring acceptable documentation, product has obtained a premium for certified Kentucky Proud beef in high-end supermarkets and restaurants throughout the state, providing a premium for all the participants in the production chain.