Cattle rustling isn't just a story from the Old West; unfortunately, it's alive and well in Israel today, with farmers in the north and south forced to take elaborate precautions in order to protect their herds of cows and flocks of sheep. In recent years farmers have tried all sorts of techniques and schemes to keep thieves, for the most part Bedouin, away from their animals – and now an Israeli company has come up with an idea that could make it easier for the authorities to track down thieves and prosecute them, hopefully discouraging others from following in their footsteps.
The solution to cattle theft is being developed by Bactochem, an Israeli company that works in the field of microbiological and chemical testing for food, animals, soil, water and plants. Among the projects it has developed is a database of cattle DNA – the largest in the world. Using the database, police can determine from whom a cattle rustler stole an animal, tracking down the owner and building a case against the thief.
And the database has other uses as well – especially for kosher consumers. How do you know if the meat you buy in the store is kosher – really? Of course, a kashrut supervisor – a mashgiach – ensures that the animal used to produce kosher meat is properly prepared (salting and soaking according to the prescribed Jewish law), but it's a long way from the slaughterhouse to the store, and lots of things can happen along the way. There are many cases of false paperwork being filed, phony claims of kashrut, and related problems – but thanks to the Bactochem solution, kashrut falsification could become a thing of the past, too.
Here's how it works: A farmer or cattle processor who buys animals for slaughter sends in samples from each of the animals in its herd, and Bachtochem analyzes the animal's DNA information and puts it into a database. The information is encoded with a lengthy security code, which is then placed on a barcode that gets attached to every package or carton of meat the processor produces from each specific cow. If the meat is cut and repackaged at a supermarket warehouse, the packaging staff is told to attach a copy of the barcode to each particular package.
When a customer wants to get information about the meat they've picked out of the store refrigerator, they open up a smartphone app being developed by Bactochem, using it to upload a photo of the barcode. The system matches the barcode up with the DNA information, and all the data about the particular cow is instantly beamed back to the customer.
“Consumers who buy a particular kind of meat – organically raised, Angus beef, kosher – are interested in ensuring they get what they paid for, and the companies that supply those cuts have an interest in providing assurances to their customers that the products they are getting are authentic,” says Guy Evron, the director of the project.
“Many people try to avoid meat from cattle that have been inoculated with specific vaccines, while others prefer to buy only meat that was aged for a specific period. Our technology provides them with the ability to easily get the answers to those questions.”
The database can also help Israeli farmers to alleviate cattle rustling. Proving a case against thieves is often difficult, because the thieves usually remove any identifying tags or locaters that can aid police in figuring out from where the cows or sheep were stolen.
But you can't fake DNA; and using the Bactochem database, police are able to determine where the stolen cow came from and to whom it really belongs – hopefully, helping to put a stop to cattle rustling.