The South Dakota Certified Beef program isn't living up to the expectations set by its many boosters. And Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen -- an entirely separate business but one still related to the beef industry and the certified program -- has declared bankruptcy after less than a year of operation.
It's bad news on South Dakota's beef front, no doubt.
The South Dakota Certified Beef program was supposed to aid beef producers in selling state-branded meat as a premium food product.
Former Gov. Mike Rounds pushed hard for the program back in 2005. Back then, he said codes on package labels would let buyers visit an Internet site to track the meat's origin, and he also predicted that people worldwide would specifically seek out our state's premium meat.
So far, that hasn't happened, and for a variety of reasons. In eight years, only 16,386 cattle have been enrolled in the program, even though South Dakota ranchers generally maintain a herd of approximately 4 million. An Associated Press report earlier this week noted that only 500 cattle have made it all the way through the program.
It costs the state Agriculture Department more than $50,000 a year to run the program, although a portion of that is paid from fees associated with cattle enrollment.
Rounds -- who is now a candidate for the U.S. Senate -- is still hoping for good things from the program, and told the AP recently that delays in getting the Northern Beef Packers plant up and running have added to the troubles.
Meanwhile, in the days since Rounds said that, it has been reported that Northern Beef has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It's still possible the company will emerge from these troubles, but it's yet another setback for beef processing in South Dakota.
It's been a sad ride for South Dakota Certified Beef, which started off with "sky high" expectations, according to a rancher who spoke last week with the AP.
We're still hoping it takes off, and we are hesitant to blame Rounds. As governor, it was his job to promote the state with forward-thinking plans. South Dakota Certified Beef definitely was forward-thinking.
We actually think it still has a chance, since we envision a day when Americans will focus even more attention on what, exactly, is in their food. Point-of-origin labeling already plays a role in the marketplace, and that role won't diminish in coming years.
Faced with a choice between eating steak from South Dakota cattle or from some Mexican herd, we think it's a no-brainer.
South Dakota Certified Beef, or some other program similar to it, could still be successful someday.