Few issues in the Canadian cattle industry today are more controversial than traceability. Rarely has there been an issue where the benefits have been so overstated by some and understated by others.
After listening to the debate for some time, it appears clear to me that there is value in traceability from an animal disease management and eradication standpoint. Furthermore, while it is impossible to quantify, as we develop a more robust ability to manage animal health issues, there will almost certainly be some benefits in market access negotiations and domestic confidence will be enhanced.
The challenge is that it is unlikely consumers at home or abroad will be willing to pay for it. It is for this reason that we must enhance our traceability system in a manner an that will not result in the loss of our competitiveness.
In the late 1990s, Canada s cattle and beef producers established the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) to develop a national identification program to address the risk to our export-based industry posed by our inability to rapidly identify and trace individual animals.
The national identification system had been in existence for approximately two years when BSE hit. Tracing several of the older infected animals back through several ownership changes to their herds of origin required a considerable amount of brand inspection, paperwork and effort. However, the CCIA system played a positive role in getting the U.S. border opened to boneless UTM beef less than four months after the first diagnosis of BSE, and was critical to having Canada recognized as a controlled risk country for BSE.
Traceability becomes an important tool in managing contagious diseases that can be transmitted directly from one animal to another. Knowing where an animal came from and which animals may have been exposed can save considerable time in controlling disease spread, reduce the number of animals that may need to be destroyed and hasten the return to a normally functioning marketplace.
In September, I participated in the National Cattle Traceability Summit in Saskatoon. The three-day event was well attended with all sectors represented. A number of key points came out of the summit that will reinforce ongoing efforts to develop a traceability system that is cost-effective and workable for Canada s beef cattle producers. There was general agreement at the meeting on a few key points:
Before movement reporting can take place, premise ID is essential and must be uniformly applied across the nation. For producers, the definition of premise is the headquarters or home quarter of the operation. This means that movement reporting will not be required between pastures or land parcels.
Movement reporting should be phased-in using an industry standard as opposed to a regulatory approach, and will take place at those times and locations when it coincides with management practices.
Movement reporting will take place at movein by the owner of the cattle using a phased in approach. A feasible next step is that feedlots greater than 1,000 head record cattle upon movein. The vast majority of these cattle are restrained and processed at move-in, and many operations are already scanning the RFID tag information into their management system. For cow-calf operations, this means cattle sold will not have to be read out, and that the practice of tagging calves before selling will continue to be their only responsibility. It should be noted that in Alberta this read-in requirement already exists. Funding must be sorted out between the public good versus private good. We concluded that it was essential for government cost-sharing infrastructure and technology programs to continue as the system is phased in. However, the system must be built in a very cost-effective manner, as we cannot depend on government funding to sustain the system in the long term.
Many of the Summit points echo the policy recommendations put forth last year by the Canadian Cattlemen s Association (CCA). The CCA recommendations were made on behalf of the beef cattle industry and relate to the next steps of implementation of the federal/provincial/territorial agenda to have a mandatory comprehensive national system for livestock traceability in place in 2011.
There are additional benefits to the RFID tag for producers. Through the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS), producers can use the tag s individual animal ID to record herd health management protocols, vaccination records and the like, and later, extract detailed carcass information. This information will help producers improve or refine production methods to produce cattle with specific attributes that the market demands. In time, BIXS will enable production enhancing decisions that will leave the industry more competitive.
The CCA position has been that the traceability system we establish must benefit the industry and be sustainable in the long term without an over reliance on government funds. Our work on traceability continues and we are moving forward carefully in this regard. We remain committed to improving and enhancing our traceability system to ensure it is implemented in a cost-effective manner.
TravisToews ispresidentof theCanadian Cattlemen s Association