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Auction Owners Talk Traceability

An applied research project to test systems to meet national traceability requirements and re-instituting an enforcement committee were top topics at the Livestock Markets Association of Canada’s (LMAC) annual meeting in Brooks, Alta. at the end of May.

“January, 2012, is a critical date. That’s when government has asked industry to be ready for full movement responsibility for all species. It’s going to happen whether we’re driving the train or riding in the caboose,” Rick Wright told the market operators.

Since that meeting Canada’s ministers of agriculture have said they want traceability in place by 2011. That may sound like the 2012 date is already out of line but Richard Robinson, the manager of identification and traceability programs with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says the government will be negotiating these dates sector-by-sector with the industry and provinces over the next few months. It is his undertanding that the industry has until December 31, 2011 to comply with the ministers’ deadlines.

Wright, who is a buyer with Cattlex at Hamiota, Man., has been a LMAC director for 20 years and is the association’s appointee to the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA), where he is currently serving as vice-chair. He and Larry Witzel of the Ontario Livestock Exchange at Waterloo, are LMAC’s representatives appointed by the CCIA and the Industry-Government Advisory Committee (IGAC) to the Cattle Implementation Plan working group.

Wright says industry has agreed to the federal government’s timeline for full movement reporting, providing the technology is available to do it. LMAC’s prerequisites are that it must not impede commerce, cause undo stress on animals (shrink is a prime concern), or put employee safety at risk. Additionally, all markets must be on a level playing field so traceability doesn’t give one market an advantage or disadvantage over the other. Ideally, full movement reporting would run on ghost technology — that’s to say that the components should run in the background to capture the necessary information without anyone knowing they’re there, Wright explains.

Toward this goal, the CCIA is running an applied research project at auction markets and has applied to the federal Growing Forward program for funding. The steering committee for the project includes CCIA executive director Kerry St. Cyr and Wright (CCIA), Larry Witzel (IGAC), Steve Primrose (order buyers), LMAC president Mike Fleury, and Gord Cherwoniak (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).

Project manager Donna Henuset of Calgary has been working with the steering committee to organize the study and evaluate potential test sites at auction markets that have volunteered their facilities. A number of markets will be equipped and ready to begin the first phase of testing by September.

Henuset came into the position with an extensive business background, but is new to the beef industry. Wright says the fact that she enters the business with no preconceived ideas will allow her to be objective in her assessment of the data.

“It is extremely important that the final analysis be unbiased because the government says it has needs that we have questioned,” he adds. “Hopefully, the project will give us insight that will bring us closer together.”

Ultimately, the research will assist in defining the marketing sector’s role in traceability and whether it can be ready by the deadline. If not, LMAC will press hard for an extension so traceability is not forced on marketing centers before they are ready.

Enforcement committee

The CCIA is in the process of establishing an enforcement committee

to ensure a common-sense, practical approach to enforcing the traceability requirements. It would also serve as an ombudsman of sorts to assist producers, truckers and market operators who feel they have been wrongly accused of an infraction by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

As it stands, auction markets are paying the penalty for untagged animals that move through their markets. The cost is in monetary fines, time spent dealing with the issue, and their reputation with the CFIA.

There’s the option of paying the fine to avoid the court process and hiring lawyers, but the auction market still goes onto a list of offenders, Wright explains. Fines start at $500 per incident and are reduced by half if the market pleads guilty and pays up early.

“We were assured from the start by the CFIA that the industry wouldn’t have to police the system,” Wright says. “Somehow between the start and now the rules have changed. Originally the onus was on the owner of the cattle to make sure they are tagged.”

The producer representatives on the CCIA board of directors agree that they don’t want markets to be fined because of producers’ negligence. A motion calling for it to be the responsibility of producers to ensure that animals are properly tagged was moved by Mark Elford of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association and seconded by Alberta Cattle Feeders Association representative Jack de Boer at a meeting of the CCIA board of directors earlier in the year.

Wright says there have been a couple of attempts in the past to establish an effective enforcement committee. Now that quite a few auction market operators have ended up in court and full movement tracking is on the horizon, the need for this committee has become more apparent than ever.

The committee would gather information from stakeholders and meet with the CFIA to sort out issues surrounding who is responsible and liable for what with the object being to clarify the rules for all to follow.

This year’s LMAC annual meeting and Canadian Livestock Auctioneer Championship was hosted by the Bow Slope Shipping Association at Brooks, Alta. In 2010, the event will return to Winnipeg Livestock Sales, where it all began 12 years ago.

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