No year will likely ever match 2003 as a standout in the history of Canada’s beef industry but 2011 may rank a close second as government and industry move toward implementing full mandatory traceability of cattle.
Following the annual meeting in July of 2009 the federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers announced a mandatory national traceability system for livestock and poultry, supported by national funding and regulatory framework, would be in place by 2011.
The requirements of an internationally recognized traceability program for control of animal disease and trace-back of food safety issues are animal identification, premises identification and movement reporting. Age verification is a value-added component rather than a fundamental requirement for traceability.
Individual animal identification for beef and dairy cattle has been mandatory in Canada since July, 2002. The information for cattle, bison and sheep in all provinces except Quebec is stored in the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) database developed by the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA). Quebec has its own program and database called Agri-Tracabilite Quebec (ATQ).
For beef cattle, tag retailers must report tag numbers to the CLTS database in the producer’s name within 24 hours of purchase. To follow the tag life cycle, lost and damaged tags must be reported and the numbers must be retired from the CLTS database when the animal is processed for meat, exported or dies from natural or other causes.
Premises identification of geographical locations where animals are kept or assembled is a provincial jurisdiction. It is now mandatory in Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba. Some provinces use the CLTS for storing the premises identification information, while others have developed their own provincial databases.
Movement reporting is in its infancy except in Quebec where a system of transit declarations is used when animals are transported more than 10 kilometres. Changes of ownership are also reported to the ATQ database.
The only movement reporting to date on the CLTS database is by feedlots in Alberta, where the provincial government has made move-in reporting mandatory for feedlots that feed more than 1,000 head annually.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is responsible for developing national traceability policy, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for developing and enforcing traceability regulations. The CCIA, a non-profit industry organization, is responsible for administering the national cattle identification program and maintain- ing the CLTS database. The agency makes recommendations to the CFIA as to which cattle tags should be approved or revoked, allocates the tag numbers for beef and dairy cattle and is responsible for the distribution of tags for beef cattle in all provinces except Quebec.
There is no specific timeline for phasing in mandatory premises ID and movement reporting through 2011, says Susie Miller, director general of the AAFC food value chain bureau, which includes the traceability portfolio.
“AAFC’s principle has always been to introduce regulations after industry is ready with the infrastructure in place,” Miller explains. “The ministers identified four priority species — cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. For beef, we have been working with the cattle committee of the Industry- Government Advisory Committee (IGAC) to determine what makes the most sense and is doable. This year, our goal is to ensure that feedlots are ready with equipment and reporting capacity. We are hoping by the end of 2011 we will have the ability to track commercial transactions, then continue filling in as we can.”
Reporting a change of site is important, however, if ownership of the animals stays in the same hands, the owner knows where the animals are being kept, she adds. A change of ownership is critical information when a trace-out or trace-back of animals is required in a disease control, food safety, or emergency situation. Experience has proven that a change of ownership is one of the most common reasons why the trail runs cold.
Auction markets are viewed as important intermediaries in commercial transactions because animals come from and go to many locations.
Movement reporting for community pastures, fairs and exhibitions, and veterinary clinics will likely be last to be phased in because fewer animals are involved and there are adequate paper trails readily available to track animals in the event of an emergency situation.
“Together, the CCIA and AAFC will determine what we will be ready to do by year end to comply with the ministers’ request,” Miller says. “We will have mandatory elements by the end of 2011. I believe that not all will be there, but we will have the critical elements in place. The capacity exists to do it within what the industry has already developed through the CCIA. My belief is that we need better software out in the field to be able to do it efficiently,” Miller elaborates.
Research projects at auction markets, buying stations and AAFC community pastures carried out through 2009 and, or 2010 will continue into 2011 to pin down systems that are the most appropriate and effective for traceability in Canada.
The wheels have been set in motion that could lead to new federal traceability legislation, potentially by the end of 2012. It’s a long process and there are many factors that could cause delays, says Eric Aubin, CFIA traceability, regulatory and policy officer.
A concept paper has been presented to the IGAC and will be revised based on comments received to form the basis of the proposed new act. It would then have to pass through cabinet and a series of steps, including public and stakeholder scrutiny, before becoming legislation. Once the new act is in place, the CFIA, in consultation with industry, could then begin the regulation- making process to outline what the regulated parties have to do.
Presently, the Health of Animals Act gives the federal government authority to develop animal identification regulations. However, the authority to develop a full traceability program including premises identification and movement reporting isn’t as clearcut, Aubin explains.
The proposed act will enhance federal authority to regulate the three pillars of traceability — animal identification, premises identification and movement reporting — from the farm to slaughter or export for the four priority species.
It would address gaps in the current animal identification regulations, most notably, the lack of consistent and detailed identification of geographical locations where animals are kept, assembled or disposed by requiring animal owners to report animal and premise identification numbers as well as the means of transport.
Though the framework will be national in scope, it will permit the use of existing provincial regulations governing premises identification. Mandatory provincial premises ID would make implementation of mandatory movement reporting much easier to accomplish.
Additionally, it would include information-management regulations to address some of industry’s concerns related to privacy by stipulating intended uses of the information in the database and information-sharing protocols.
Meanwhile CFIA is working toward amending the Health of Animals regulations in 2011 to introduce pig traceability regulations. Representatives from the bison, goat and equine sectors have also expressed interest.
The process involves consulting with legal services to establish what the government is legally empowered to do, as well as ongoing consultation with industry to arrive at what will be workable in terms of cost and logistics for each sector and still be acceptable to the CFIA veterinarians.
New regulations under the Health of Animals Act would be phased in as would the proposed new act and regulations. Down the road, part XV of the Health of Animals regulations that deals with animal identification could be repealed and placed into the new traceability act.
“This year, our goal is to ensure that feedlots are ready with equipment and reporting capacity. We are hoping by the end of 2011 we will have the ability to track commercial transactions, then continue filling in as we can.”