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Swift to use GPS to trace beef

America’s third-largest meat company, Swift & Co., will use retina scans and a global positioning system to track the lives of its cattle from birth to grocery store by 2005, the Omaha World Herald reported recently. A company spokesman predicted that all American cattle will be tracked by 2006. While the announcement follows this week’s news that a U.S. dairy cow was found to have had bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the company said they had been working on their system for about a year.

Swift slaughters about 5.2 million cattle a year, or about 14 percent of the U.S. beef supply, the OWH said. Swift began using the system for its premium beef products, like certified Angus beef, earlier this year to prove the lineage and quality of more expensive animals that produce specialty meats, the paper said.

A company spokesman told the OWH the system should be in place in all its slaughterhouses by the end of February. But it won’t be fully operational until the summer of 2005, he said.

“The tracking system will require that the company’s suppliers and it customers institute their own tracking programs in conjunction with Swift’s,” the paper said. Swift eventually will buy only those cattle that have been tracked their entire lives.

The traceability system Swift uses costs about $3 per animal.