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Why Rush To Mandatory Traceability?

Have to hope this social engineer’s

dream doesn’t turn into a producer’s nightmare

When it comes to mandatory traceability of livestock, I’m with Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud, What’s the rush?

At the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers meeting in July, Bjornerud was the only one in the room who didn’t commit to a mandatory national system for livestock by 2011.

Alberta and Quebec are the two provinces pushing for the mandatory system. That’s not surprising. Almost everything to do with agriculture seems to be mandatory in Quebec these days, and Alberta is rapidly moving in the same direction.

More to the point Quebec already has its own traceability system largely in place and apparently the province has assurances from federal Ag Minister Ritz that a national system will operate along the same lines as the Quebec system. The Alberta Agriculture Department is also well ahead of the curve. They have a traceability branch in place within the Agriculture Department and research on the go with auction markets starting next month.

This in itself raises a concern about different platforms being developed in different regions of the country. Quebec’s ID agency, ATQ, has been aggressively encouraging producers of other livestock species and provincial traceability groups to use its database. Meanwhile the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is gearing up to become the national repository for traceability information on beef cattle and other species. We can only hope a national standard will be imposed by Ottawa so that all this information that is going to be gathered is easily shared across the country.

Obviously, the debate about whether we will even have a traceability system is over.

This must seem strange to beef producers, who are left to wonder what the benefit is to them of knowing where every animal is at any given moment.

Joe Makowecki, chairman of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency says, “an effective national mandatory traceability system is essential to realize gains in offshore markets.”

That sounds a lot like the statements we heard when Ottawa introduced an enhanced feed ban that was more restrictive and more costly than the U. S. ban. It didn’t stop the U. S. from imposing COOL. It didn’t convince Japan to eliminate its 20-month limit on beef imports, or gain us access to South Korea.

The science is clear. When you remove specified risk materials, beef is safe. The world animal health organization (OIE) accepts that bone-in beef from animals under 30 months in controlled-risk countries is safe and just this May it eliminated the 30-month restriction altogether on boneless beef. Yet Japan, South Korea and other countries maintain their restrictions.

So how exactly will traceability improve this situation? It’s hard to imagine. But no matter, the ministers have spoken. And more importantly, they have put up money to make it happen.

Producer and industry groups have basically stopped fighting against traceability. The battle lines now are drawn around timing, cost, technology and this notion of making it mandatory.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture met with the ministers in July and asked them to consider an incentive-based system. They were ignored so I guess we can cross incentive-based traceability off that list.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association points out there are many barriers to overcome before we can have an efficient, cost-effective national system in place.

As our story in this issue points out technology is still a big question mark. There are several competing technologies and platforms to choose from and many have yet to be tested in commercial conditions such as auction markets. That process will begin this fall. The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is heading up a project to test different makes of equipment in different types of markets across the country. The goal is to see if the technology works and assess the costs involved.

The Alberta project will test one platform in several markets to see what changes might be needed to make traceability work in a cost-effective manner for this sector.

Aside from the technology, industry and government are still negotiating when and where animals have to be tracked, and who will pay for it. Governments have put up pots of money to help with the initial bills, but this will be an ongoing cost for producers and the industry.

I can’t help but wonder when it was that we lost our faith in the ability of a free market to sort out commercial problems. Mandatory traceability is a social engineer’s dream. We just have to hope it doesn’t turn into a nightmare for producers.

About the author


Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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