Nevertheless, industry experts claim being able to trace filet mignon, rib eye and other cuts of beef back to the ranch can be beneficial, including boosting consumer confidence, upping the value of a dinner and reducing the time needed to track recalled meats.
"People want to know where their food is coming from and this gives you a perfect avenue for you to go ahead and find out," said Tracy Tonning, executive chef at Blackstone restaurant in Iowa City, Iowa.
This restaurant is one of more than 11,000 that Richmond-based food distributor Performance Food Group is supplying with DNA-traceable beef as an added value for customers of its premium Braveheart brand. With annual revenues of approximately $11 billion, the company claims to be among the first distributors using this technology.
"People are spending less in restaurants than they used to, but they are willing to spend more when they do go out to get something really special," said George Holm, CEO of the company.
According to tests the company did in some steakhouses it supplies, as well as surveys outside other restaurants, consumers are willing to pay $2 or $3 more for the same cut meat if various "pleasers" were added — a higher quality of meat, traceability, as well as how the animals were treated and fed.
Products like DNA-traceable meat help the industry with safety concerns. The technology can determine where the meat came from, as well as whether it's organic or Angus.
Workers take DNA samples at places along the supply chain. The samples are gathered to determine the specific animals each product came from. Information kept by farmers and others involved in the raising and processing of the animals can be added to give a more complete history.
DNA tracing also provides a faster way to identify the source of contaminated meat during a recall, speeding the process from weeks or months to hours. It can even identify the multiple animals whose parts were used in ground beef, which Holm said may be made from 1,000 different animals in one 10-lb. box. The technology's ability to pinpoint particular animals could even reduce the amount of meat affected by recalls, which are very costly for producers, suppliers and others.
"In more recent years, food safety issues have become much more prominent in the supply chain here," said Ronan Loftus, co-founder of IdentiGEN Ltd., which is working with Performance Food Group on its DNA tracing.
Although DNA-traceable meat comes at a price at all levels of the supply chain, Loftus said those costs are decreasing.