updated 3/8/2005 3:26:37 PM ET 2005-03-08T20:26:37

Consumers will be able to find out where the beef they buy came from, even the ranch where a calf was born, under a new measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mike Rounds and aimed at raising cattle prices for the state's farmers and ranchers.

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The South Dakota Certified Beef Program allows consumers to visit an Internet site and use a code on the meat label to track the animal from birth, through a feedlot and to a meatpacking plant.

"We believe consumers will step forward and they will be paying premium prices for this premium product," Rounds said Tuesday.

The Legislature last week passed a bill based on the program Rounds first proposed when he campaigned for governor in 2002.

Various organizations have promoted high quality beef, but South Dakota officials said the state program marks the first time a government has put its seal of approval on beef products.

Only meat from South Dakota cattle that are tracked electronically and raised according to program standards would qualify for an official state trademark or seal, which features an image of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

State officials hope the program will improve cattle prices for South Dakota farmers and ranchers by assuring customers that the steak, roast and hamburger is of the highest quality and safety.

Demand for more information
Congress a few years ago passed a law requiring that meat be labeled according to its country of origin, but the law has never been implemented. After the discovery of mad cow disease in a few cattle from Canada, consumers will demand more information about how and where meat was produced, South Dakota officials said.

"We're going beyond country of origin labeling here. We're going right down to the producer who raised that calf," Rounds said.

Cattle in the program would have to be raised, fed and slaughtered within South Dakota. Farmers, ranchers and processors who join the program would have to follow state standards in raising and slaughtering cattle. All cattle in the program would carry electronic ID tags.

Rounds also signed into law a second measure that allows the state to start an identification program that will work in conjunction with the South Dakota Certified Beef program and also be used to help stop the spread of livestock diseases.

Farmers and ranchers who voluntarily enroll in the Certified Beef program would have to pay licensing fees, which would be used to finance marketing efforts and monitoring of the livestock. Enrollees would be required to keep careful records that the state could check to ensure adherence to the program.

The program initially will market premium beef products, but it eventually will distribute natural beef products from cattle that have been raised without certain hormones or drugs. Rounds said the natural beef products could sell particularly well in Europe.

Help for farmers, ranchers
State Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel said the beef branding program should improve agricultural income by switching farmers and ranchers away from producing a raw commodity to selling a branded product.

"I think this is a big step in revolutionizing the way we market our products," said Gabriel, who owns a ranch in western South Dakota.

The program should increase the number of calves born in South Dakota and the number of cattle fed and slaughtered in the state, officials said.

Gabriel said 850 farmers and ranchers have expressed interest in the program.

Dwight Scott, the first farmer to register for the program last year, said he now signs an affidavit assuring buyers his cattle have been raised a certain way. The new program will certify those claims and back them up with records, he said.

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