Angus has long been recognized as a quality assurance measure for beef, with the nation's first branded Angus program dating back almost thirty years.
According to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, cattle have to meet one of two criteria in order to qualify as Angus: they must either have registered Angus parentage, or have a majority black coat.
However, according to Dr Sara Davis, ViaGen's vice president for genetic services, "the color of the animal is no longer a reliable means of heritage verification. Over the course of time, the black color has become so valuable that most breeds have turned their cattle black, but the Angus breed percentage in many of these cattle has reduced."
ViaGen's response was to develop AnguSure, a DNA testing program to verify the genetic heritage of animals, granting exclusive retail license for the program and the AnguSure emblem to Angus beef marketer Premium Gold Angus Beef (PGAB).
The program, which claims will enable producers, retailers and consumers to benefit from increased brand integrity and product quality, was recently approved by the USDA as a marketing tool, and will become a major part of PGAB's advertising campaign as from January 2006.
"This is the next step in heritage verification. We hope this will become a standard for Angus products in the market place, that it will be what people look for to ensure they get high quality products," said PGAB vice president of operations Mike O'Connor.
"The major advantage of this program for the industry is that it will ensure customers receive high performing products time and time again," he said, adding that the company has no plans to increase product prices.
However, the USDA does not currently recognize DNA testing as a means of qualifying cattle for branded programs.
Therefore, PGAB, together with cattle producers who will be able to directly buy the genetic tests from ViaGen, will still have to comply by one of the USDA's two requirements for its certified Angus programs.
However, according to O'Conner, it may not be long before the USDA recognizes the method. Earlier this week industry representatives met with the USDA to discuss different options.
"Because of the amount of non-Angus cattle that are perceived to be getting into programs, we believe the USDA is likely to look at DNA testing as another way to allow cattle into its programs, perhaps as soon as 2006," he told FoodNAvigator-USA.com