Over the next couple of years, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is moving to improve the effectiveness of Canada’s Livestock Traceability System by nailing down where all classes of livestock are produced, what type of animals they are and where they move.
In regulations now being developed, both premise identification and animal movement are expected to become mandatory in all provinces across Canada by 2018. Along with animal identifications (those electronic ear tags) premise ID and livestock movement are considered the three pillars of an overall effective traceability system.
While animal identification has been mandatory for the main classes of cattle for several years, the other pillars had looser applications. Some provinces adopted premise ID and animal movement systems earlier and others are either at different stages or don’t have systems in place. Under the proposed regulations now being considered, more species of animals will be covered by animal identification and all provinces will be required to have premise ID and animal movement systems in place.
CFIA is the national lead for the whole livestock traceability system, with other players responsible for making sure different components of the system are implemented.
The national ear-tagging system, requiring electronic (RFID) tags in one ear of most classes of livestock, is administered nationally by the industry-led Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA). CCIA launched the identification program in 1998.
Premise ID and animal movement actually falls under the jurisdiction of each province. The new CFIA regulations will make it mandatory for each province to have a premise ID system in place and be active in getting all producers of livestock and poultry on board, says Veronica McGuire, executive director of the CFIA’s regulatory and trade policy program. She spoke at the first-ever Canadian Traceability Symposium recently held in Calgary. Along with producers, cattle feeders, packing plants and retailers it also brought together officials from the various federal and provincial regulatory agencies.
The provinces are at various stages of implementing premise ID systems. Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and P.E.I. all now have mandatory provincial premise ID programs, while the remaining provinces, for the time being, operate with voluntary reporting systems. On the animal movement front, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have systems in place — shipping manifests filled out when animals are moved — while the rest of the provinces from Manitoba east don’t.
In developing regulations, the CFIA has already gone through an extensive consultation process with all sectors of the livestock industry. That input will lead to the development of draft regulations probably by mid-2017. The proposed regulations will then be reviewed further, and if all the political stars line up, the regulations could come into effect in 2018.
“The new regulations will amend and strengthen the whole traceability system,” says McGuire. Along with mandatory premise ID, “the proposals will include more classes of livestock and also call for reporting requirements for the domestic movement of animals.”
Beef and dairy cattle, along with bison were the first classes of livestock covered in the national identification program, since then sheep and pigs have been added. The coming CFIA amendments will cover goat, and farm-raised deer and elk. The regulations will also cover the domestic movement of animals to “improve timeliness of information and geographic precision,” says McGuire.
While a lot of feedback and consultation will help shape the coming regulations, she says the key as far as implementing an effective traceability program is proper communication with producers and others in the handling, feeding and processing sectors. She says it will be important to explain the need for the traceability system, and to also work with producers and others as they provide the information required. She says getting the industry to understand and buy into the system, is much more preferred than enforcement measures.
The importance of what was then Canada’s relatively new livestock traceability system really caught traction during the BSE crisis in 2003. Symposium speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of having a complete national livestock traceability system in Canada, for several reasons. Food safety is an ongoing and increasing public or consumer concern — if there is a problem with a meat product at the retail level, for example, it is important to be able to trace it back to the processor, cattle feeder or farm of origin.
It is similar for animal health concerns. The recent case of an Alberta-raised slaughter animal found to have TB at a U.S. packing plant, is a classic example. Being able to trace that animal back to its farm of origin was important in the investigation to determine if other animals were infected. It becomes a huge concern to beef operations in a regional area, but doesn’t shut down the whole Canadian beef industry.
And having a functioning and effective traceability system is also important to maintaining and expanding international meat and livestock market access.
A disease outbreak can go from being minor to a disaster in short order, with devastating social and economic consequences, the symposium was reminded. Dr. Tony Britt, former director of animal biosecurity and welfare in Victoria, Australia pointed to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom in 2001. That started with sheep on one farm being fed some contaminated feedstuffs. Sheep aren’t affected by foot-and-mouth disease but they are carriers. From that sheep operation it spread to another nearby farm where a single pig was infected and from there it eventually led to the slaughter of 6.5 million head of cattle, sheep and pigs with an estimated cost of 10 billion pounds (about C$16 billion) to the U.K. economy.
Australia calculated a “what-if” scenario for a similar disease outbreak on that continent, figuring it would cost about $50 billion today, and Britt guessed there would be a similar cost if an outbreak happened in Canada.
Broad value of premise ID
While no one is hoping for a disease outbreak, premise ID and tracking movement of animals are important tools in managing and controlling a disease outbreak or helping manage all species of animals during natural disasters, says Rick Frederickson, director of animal welfare and national traceability with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
Premise ID requires all landowners to register the legal description of all land where livestock is raised and also report the types and numbers of livestock being raised on that property. It isn’t a complicated or difficult process to get a premise ID number — it may take 10 minutes on appropriate computer websites.
And premise ID doesn’t just apply to commercial livestock producers, but all acreage owners and hobby farmers as well. And the emphasis is on ALL species, ALL animals not just cattle, sheep and pigs, but also all classes of poultry, commercially raised fish, horses, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, yaks and even pigeons, to name a few.
The idea behind this is to have a comprehensive record of what animals are out there, what property they are raised on, and how many there are. This isn’t about the government wanting to know your business.
Aside from managing disease outbreaks, premise ID is an invaluable tool in helping manage natural disasters.
“We’ve already seen the benefits of the system put into action here in Alberta during events of floods and fires,” says Frederickson. “When a natural disaster occurs we can go to the maps, go to the database and know where and how many livestock are in the path of this disaster and then send out alerts or warnings to these landowners.”
On the disease front, for example, if a case of avian flu was detected in a small flock of chickens, the premise ID database can be used to determine the location of properties around the infected flock that might be at risk, that need to be investigated or quarantined to ensure the disease doesn’t spread further.
The premise ID will help create a centralized database in each province so officials know what type and number of animals are on each property.
B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan each already have shipping manifest systems, which are filled out any time livestock are loaded into a truck or trailer and moved from the farm of origin to a different location. If not already included, these shipping manifests will be modified to accommodate the appropriate premise ID numbers. Under the proposed regulations all provinces will be required to have some type of system for recording livestock movement in place.
The role of premise ID and tracking movement of animals isn’t about invading people’s privacy, say officials, it’s about protecting livestock that might be in the path of a natural disaster, and protecting the whole animal industry in the event of a disease outbreak to minimize its impact on the rest of the industry.