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CCA REPORTS – for Feb. 8, 2010

Brad Wildeman is president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s been a lot of back and forth from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) with regards to delisting bar code tags and the deadline to do so — as it has now been postponed.

Judging by the number of phone calls I’ve been getting, you’re frustrated by the delay and confused about what it means to your operation — I get it. You, as a producer, were proactive — you got your tags changed, and absorbed the cost, only to find out that the CFIA made it unnecessary — at least for now.

This makes producers wonder who is driving the bus, and why the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) would spend the advertising money when they didn’t know that CFIA would enforce it.

The delay comes as a surprise to the CCIA which had recommended the CFIA delist the bar code tags from the approved tag list, effective Jan. 1. By delisting the bar code tags, producers would be required to tag all cattle with an approved CCIA RFID (radio frequency identification) tag after Dec. 31, 2009, and cross-reference the bar code with the new RFID tag in the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS).

The CCIA continues to urge producers to convert to the RFID tag and cross-reference the bar code tags to preserve the integrity of the traceability system. The CCA agrees.

While the CCIA is disappointed with the CFIA’s decision not to enforce delisting, I’m concerned with the level of communication between these two organizations.

The CFIA is responsible for enforcement and the CCIA is responsible for policy — they have to talk to each other to successfully roll out effective tools, which ultimately feed into national traceability. The CCIA is trying to do what’s best for the industry’s long-term needs but they need support from the CFIA to do so.

This whole issue of the tags leads into the bigger, national traceability picture. What’s happening right now with the CFIA and the bar code tags is only compounded with mandatory traceability announcements in general.

The traceability effort at the national and provincial level has been frustrating and confusing because both levels of government did not fully follow industry’s advice on how best to move forward.

The CCA established clear criteria in 2006 that put in place sensible tolerances and recognition that any system brought in must not impede normal commerce.

Included among the five principles is that the costs of the traceability system for the beef cattle industry must not have an adverse effect on the competitive position of the industry, and that traceability technology must be capable of reading animal identification at a rate which accommodates normal commerce.

In the fall of 2009, the CCA, the Alberta government and industry agreed to the principles we set out for the Canadian beef cattle industry.

Co-operation between industry and governments is critical to moving ahead.

A renewed effort must be undertaken that will result in an effective, practical, and appropriate traceability program that will serve our animal-health protection needs, and support our efforts to build consumer confidence domestically and worldwide.

The CCA believes in the benefit of traceability — establishing a credible and affordable nationwide system is critical to our industry’s future sustainability. Traceability is a tool that will benefit the entire value chain by enabling us to respond and recover quickly from an animal health incident. Globally, a robust traceability system is becoming one of the required standards for livestock and livestock products trade.

Cattle producers led the traceability initiative and have invested millions of dollars into it over the past decade because we understand its importance. Focusing our efforts in the areas that will result in the greatest benefit at the least expense (which include the production sites where cattle reside), will yield us the best results. Traceability is increasingly demanded for beef trade in many countries and it will position our products favourably to other beef suppliers.

The RFID tag can help facilitate value-added initiatives like the CCA’s Beef InfoXchange System, commonly known as BIXS.

As part of the Canadian Beef Advantage, the branding of Canadian beef for domestic and international markets, BIXS will enable improved communications and individual animal information sharing across the entire beef chain. It will provide important information for cattle producers to improve their genetics and production methods that many of us envisioned when the CCIA was established.

We can’t allow these latest frustrations to deter us from moving our industry forward and positioning ourselves for the future. The CCA will continue to press governments to work with, not in opposition to, the industry’s needs.

Our traceability system needs to be designed in an efficient and cost-effective manner, and many significant obstacles need to be overcome before implementing a verifiable, efficient and cost-effective national program.

It’s important to recognize that the system’s requirements can’t exceed current technological capabilities. Traceability, done properly, is the right thing to do — for us and for our industry’s future.

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