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Hi-Tech Branding

Livestock Identification Services (LIS), Alberta’s industry-run livestock inspection agency and brand registrar for cattle and horses, will begin testing an electronic manifest (eManifest) prototype this summer. Once fully functional, the eManifest will slowly be rolled out, likely beginning with shipments from feedlots to packers and progressing from there as producers determine its effectiveness.

It’s completely commerce driven,” says LIS chief operating officer David Moss.

Big feedlots that write hundreds of manifests every month were the first to express interest in LIS’s concept for an eManifest and have provided the major push for its development. LIS brought together a focus group with people from feedlots, feeder associations, private finance companies, trucking companies and packing plants. Based on this support for the early prototype, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) provided financial support to take it from concept to reality.

Spira Data Corp., a company with experience writing software for the oil and gas industry, developed the database underpinning this unique product.

Paper manifests will always be an option, however, the eManifest has several advantages. An eManifest is always legible and has to be properly completed before the system will accept it. Once an eManifest is submitted to the LIS database, the information becomes instantly available to authorized people along the chain through a secure login from an office computer or smart-phone. It can be printed out to send with the transporter or for filing.

As the system develops, transaction information from the eManifest will interface with each party’s management software. This will save the time and expense of re-entering information and reduce the chance of errors.

The exact geographic location of the cattle at the time of loading and at their destination will be pinned to the eManifest by entering a legal land description or GPS co-ordinates. The physical location can be cross-referenced with the Alberta government database to draw in the premise ID number. If the legal land description isn’t known, just point to the location on the Google map built into the eManifest.

Considering LIS inspected over five million head of livestock listed on more than 250,000 manifests in 2010 alone, eManifest will significantly reduce the time and task of scanning paper manifests into the LIS database and manually entering the data into the computer.

The LIS database holds information on all cattle and horses entering or leaving every inspection point in Alberta — mainly auction markets, feedlots, packing plants — and animals exported to other provinces and countries.

“This commerce-based movement data set with more than 15 years of information is the largest of its kind in North America and is recognized as a vital traceability tool by provincial and federal disease investigators,” Moss adds.

LIS is the service provider for Alberta Pork’s traceability system, so pork producers will also be testing the eManifest this summer. With its capacity to serve other livestock sectors, provisions have been made to store the eManifest system as a stand-alone database to accommodate other livestock sectors that may want to operate their systems independently.

Commerce-based movement tracking

Moss says the eManifest was developed as part of a much broader initiative to create a commerce-based, real-time livestock-tracking service. LIS already collects movement information on commercial transactions. The powerful database will enable LIS to work with other national and provincial agencies involved with animal ID, premises ID and movement tracking programs toward establishing a cost-effective and sustainable solution for traceability in Alberta.

Controlling the spread of animal disease is the fundamental purpose of a traceability system. Traditionally, proximity-based statistical approaches have been used to model disease spread. However, just because a farm is within a certain radius of infected animals doesn’t necessarily put it at high risk; whereas, a farm hundreds of miles away could be at very high risk if trading occurred between it and the affected farm.

New research out of the U.K. shows the efficiency of farm network-based disease spread models built on typical trade patterns. Officials at the time of the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic failed to give enough weight to the importance of farm trading networks in spreading the virus and this contributed to the severity of the outbreak that resulted in the loss of four million animals. Early detection, rapid response, and implementing the network-based approach confined the August and September 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak to eight sites in England.

Recognizing the value of a commerce- based movement tracking system, Dr. John Berezowski, veterinary epidemiologist with ARD’s agri-food systems branch, created a computer model to simulate trading networks and how an animal disease would spread over time in Alberta using LIS data for the animal movement component.

“We always knew the commerce-based information had value from a traceability standpoint, but we probably didn’t appreciate its full value until we were able to see the work of Dr.

Berezowski,” Moss says. “The study really highlighted how it could be used for complete traceability purposes without reinventing the wheel.”

LIS has also been monitoring advancements in ultra-high-frequency (UHF) technology. The extended read ranges and high read rates, coupled with significantly lower tag and reader costs, may soon make UHF technology a viable alternative to the current low-frequency technology used in North America.

“When real-time tag read capacity becomes inexpensive and easy to use, it will become part of the management process, not because it’s mandatory, but because it makes sense,” says Moss. “Ideally traceability should be an afterthought to a producer’s management system.”

This vision of commerce-based traceability has also been of interest to the International Livestock Identification Association (ILIA) in Denver. The four western provinces and Ontario are ILIA members and Moss is the current president.

Other database developments

The new Spira database installed in April replaces the old government database LIS inherited when brand inspection was privatized in 1998. It is behind a number of other improvements at LIS.

It enables real-time data sharing between the LIS head office in Calgary and its 28 field offices and 85 inspectors. While the equipment has changed, the brand inspectors’ work remains the same — inspecting cattle and horses, recording the information, assisting with disease and fraud investigations, and serving as an information source for producers. LIS also contracts the services of two RCMP livestock investigators.

LIS has been able to update its website at www.lis-alberta.com with an interactive version of the provincial statistics it prepares for ARD’s Ropin’ the Web site. Users can now select filters and drag and drop fields to compare inspection statistics by year or month, inspection site, type and classes of cattle. The grids may be viewed as numerical values, per cent of columns or rows, absolute variation, or per cent variation.

The website also provides immediate access to the 48,535 brands cur- rently registered in Alberta, reports of missing cattle, the list of licensed buyers active in Alberta and those whose licences have been suspended.

About LIS

LIS is responsible for administering the Livestock Identifi- cation and Commerce Act (LICA) and the Stray Animals Act. LICA, which came into force on January 1, 2009, reaffirmed branding as a method of identifying ownership and broadened the types of livestock identifiers to include those used in other industry programs, such as RFID tags. It reaffirmed inspections to assist with determining ownership in order to ensure sale proceeds flow to the correct owners and buyers receive clear title on livestock by requiring vendors to disclose any security interests on the livestock they are selling.

In 2010, LIS redirected nearly $4 million in proceeds from livestock sales to rightful owners and managed the sale or return of more than 3,700 stray animals. LIS licenses and holds more than $16 million in security for 285 livestock dealers and administers the $8-million Livestock Assurance Fund.

With the transformation happening at LIS, the agency is in the process of rebranding its corporate identity as an organization that maintains confidence in Alberta’s livestock industry by ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the livestock trade and supporting traceability in commercial channels.

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