By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

Chris McClure

IT SEEMS LIKE WE’VE been talking about traceability forever. I remember back in the ‘90s the topic crossed my desk more than once. At the time, I was managing a group of programmers who all thought they could solve the issue. Of course, (no offense intended) all programmers believe that solving the world’s challenges is just a matter of more programming. They can take the simplest issues and turn them into reams of code that is mostly indecipherable by anyone who isn’t a programmer. (Insert smiley face.)

Over the years as my hair has fallen out and what little that is left has turned gray, I have determined that most issues are not solvable by programming unless you consider “programming” how people think to be equivalent. If you discount the natu- ral factors such as weather, most of our struggles are created by people and our innate unwillingness to change behavior – even when we know it is probably to our benefit.

Perhaps that resistance lies in the desire to hide behavior that is not suitable for primetime viewing, or maybe it is simply distrust of others. Either way, we have a tendency to seek a little obfuscation that hinders transparency. Is it fear that causes us to behave in ways that, quite frankly, breed suspicion? I’m reminded of an apple and a garden and forbidden behavior. Yep, the tendency goes all the way back to the beginning.

There is a strongly selfish element involved as well. It is necessary that we recognize our desire that others be transparent but not necessarily ourselves. After all, it’s okay for me to drift into the gray areas, but everyone else needs to abide by the rules. For most, it has always been appropriate that blame be properly fixed – as long as it isn’t on me.

I think we would all like to see more transparency in government – from the packers, in the markets in general and just about everything that seems opaque to us – except of course, our own business. There certainly is no advantage in sharing all of our “secrets to success” because then we would lose our perceived competitive advantage over our neighbors. We want to know what they are doing, but we don’t always want to tell what we are doing.

Consumers today want to see transparency in how their food is raised. They are no longer attached to the land and, with few exceptions, have very limited knowledge of how their food is produced. They want to know, however. They want to know that it is safe, nutritious and raised in a manner that is not going to destroy this planet upon which we all depend. They are constantly bombarded with messaging from various groups who are trying to sell them on a product or concept that will sway them in a specific direction. We, as cattle producers, want to do the same, yet we seem to fear transparency by rejecting something as simple as traceability for the food we produce.

Well, maybe it isn’t that simple, but it is solvable with current technology. We merely lack the will to make it happen.

Merely – that’s a mighty big word when you really dig into it. The word means “just” or “only.” We just lack the will to make it happen.

In reality, we have the will to impose traceability on others but not on our- selves. Rules are made for others, but there needs to be discretionary applica- tion of the rules, and there are times that a wise and considered judgement is neces- sary to forego the rules in favor of expedi- ency. Only I know when those exceptions should occur, and I have no trust that others will make correct judgements.

In a way, I guess I have drifted into moral philosophy here. As I referred to earlier, the whole problem of implementing traceability is a human behavior problem. Behavior is a product of “programmed” genetic instructions or of our basic life philosophy. Survival is a function of basic genetic programming. Perhaps we need to understand traceability in terms of survival because it may very well come to that. Consumers will demand it, and politicians will eventually succumb to their demands and mandate it. It might be preferable to beat them to the punch.