This is the year when the province’s mandatory meat strategy becomes real

Here it is January, the month when all Alberta producers should have age verified their 2008 calves with the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) and their premise ID with the province.

To meet that target more than half of the 2008 crop would have had to be age verified in December based on the numbers that had been processed as this issue went to press. Cow-calf producers that complied with this requirement by Dec. 31 were eligible to receive a second payment from the Alberta Farm Recovery Program as were feedlots that feed more than 5,000 head annually and agreed to track animal movement in and out of the lot and report tag numbers within seven days. Cattle going directly to slaughter did not have to be reported.

The target date for mandatory animal movement tracking is June of 2010 but the mechanism to bring it into force should be in place this year, according to Dr. Sandra Honour, the manger of animal health and food safety, certification systems of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). “Mandatory age verification and premise identification are proposed to be written into legislation within the Alberta Animal Health Act, which will be implemented in 2009 if everything is on schedule,” she explains. “Some animal movement is being proposed for legislation later in the year.”

ALMA and the Livestock Information System of Alberta (LISA) were established last fall to carry out the Alberta strategy.

Dr. Honour says the goal of these agencies is to serve as a catalyst with industry to take advantage of new opportunities that weren’t available a few years ago. Mandatory age verification is seen as necessary to improve the response time to disease outbreaks, and gain access to markets in countries requiring certain ages of animals.

Alberta’s premise ID form requires producers to disclose the farm’s location, contact information, the type of premise (farm, abattoir, etc), types of animals raised, assembled and disposed of on the premise, and capacity of the facilities for each type of livestock.

The location will be verified with the provincial land titles office for Alberta’s premise ID system and to confirm the CCIA premise ID number for producers who voluntarily submitted premise ID information to the national program. Producers who don’t have a CCIA premise identification number (PID) will be issued an Alberta PID number.

“It’s up to each province to develop its own premise identification system based on a national standard,” says Honour. “Alberta wanted more than the minimum information to help with foreign disease management for all species. Knowing the capacity on each farm will help us in worst-case scenario planning.”

As LISA evolves, it could build on the traceability data. Information of value to producers and other industry sectors could be tied to the animal and the carcass, Honour says. It may link assurances about food safety, environmental or health protocols of interest to potential buyers, or funnel back yield, grade and other market data on individual animals to help producers improve the competitiveness of their herds.

Target dates for these value-added initiatives range from 2010 to 2013. But first things first.

“We expect to meet the target dates, but it will be in consultation with industry to determine what’s

workable, practical and acceptable,” says Honour. The schedule from tracking animal movement, for example, depends on an industry-government working group that is looking at the technology available to see what is required to move forward. Similarly, certification programs can’t be audited until a verification process is in place to carry it out. Target dates are simply a starting point to help identify where resources need to be focused in order to make something happen.

For more information on ALMA or the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy visit the websites www.alma.alberta.ca and www.agric.gov. ab.ca.

Producer viewpoint

To gain some producer opinion about the mandatory traceability of cattle Canadian Cattlemen randomly selected several Alberta readers from its subscription list and gave them a call.

Robert Steffler is definitely in favour of mandatory traceability for one main reason — accountability. “People have to be held accountable for what they do. Either we change with the times or get left behind,” he says. The Stefflers have a 200-head cow-calf operation near Onoway. Calving begins in January and the calves are sold off the cows in early September.

Jay Herder agrees with the concept. The big question for him is whether it will work and open markets for Alberta beef and improve calf prices. “I’ll gladly do it and hope it helps to sell our product. Is it going to help? I don’t believe it will.”

He doesn’t like the way mandatory traceability is being implemented in Alberta. “We’ve been down this road before and nothing was ever solved by payout plans. We appreciated getting it, but I feel the money could have been used in better ways, for example BSE testing or promoting our product to other countries.” He adds that it shouldn’t be made mandatory until there’s a better tracking system with something more permanent than tags to identify cattle.

The Herders run 225 cows near Rosalind and normally sell calves off the cows. This year, for the first time, they weaned the calves at home. They’ll either keep them until they’re well started or look at backgrounding them through the winter and grassing them next summer.

Richard Osinchuk and his son ranch 240 pairs near Clandonald. He says as far as mandatory goes, there should be something in effect, but the Alberta program went a little overboard. “It should be all of Canada or nothing,” he says. It seems to him that each province operates like a separate little country. Alberta’s mandatory traceability requirement is just one more case in point. He questions why the national food and health agencies aren’t doing anything to help. For instance, now that there’s a cheaper test available for BSE testing, why aren’t we using it?

Jerry Hofer has been age verifying all of the calves born at the Whitelake Colony near Barons since the program first became available. “Absolutely, I agree. We have to do something to make sure our meat is safe and prove to customers that it is safe. We have to get people thinking the right way,” he says.

He doesn’t find it takes much time to age verify the calves. He began doing it hoping to see some payback down the road and the extra effort was beginning to pay off. The colony runs 1,100 spring-calving cows, 300 fall calvers and feeds out all of the calves. The packer has been willing to pay above market price for age-verified calves. In fact, it’s not unusual for him to get a call when the packer is looking for Japan cattle because they know the colony age verifies. They’ve always been able to fill the order.

Three other producers contacted for this poll were uncomfortable having their names published. One was in favour of mandatory traceability for disease traceback purposes. Another thought traceability for disease control wasn’t a bad idea, but economically he didn’t think it would do anything for producers. Basically, the bottom line in export markets is the cheapest product gets in. Adding value, he feels, keeps us out of markets in the end. Our final producer thought traceability may be a good idea, but it is wrong to make it mandatory. He felt strongly that it was another case of government interference in their business and he’s lost faith in the government’s ability to get it right. Mandatory traceability is just one of a whole bunch of things that the government feels need to be made mandatory. If producers comply this time, it will go on and on, he said.

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