“We need a national program.”
– JOE BOUCHARD, MCPA
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is concerned about a national livestock traceability program announced last week by the federal government.
CCA worries the mandatory program, to be effective by 2011, will saddle financially stressed producers with more regulations and added costs without financial benefits.
Ottawa announced $20 million for a traceability system aimed at tracking livestock from their original farm all the way to the grocery store meat counter. All provinces except Saskatchewan have signed on to it.
CCA says it’s not opposed to traceability for beef cattle as long as it doesn’t impede commerce.
But that’s what’ll happen if governments go ahead with a system for which the technology is still new and untried, said Brad Wildeman, CCA president.
Cattle producers already bear the brunt of extra costs from additional regulations to control BSE. National traceability will only add to that burden, Wildeman said.
“If governments truly want to assist industry, they should focus on helping us overcome these barriers rather than heaping more regulations on our industry.”
The $20 million will help auction marts upgrade handling systems to track individual animals as they are mixed with other herds at auction. It builds on an existing federal-provincial initiative to promote traceability.
Funding for this latest program is through the $500-million Agricultural Flexibility fund.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Canada is falling behind other nations in livestock traceability and needs to catch up.
“We were global leaders when it comes to traceability. We’ve now slid behind Argentina, Australia and a number of other countries, so we have very little choice and the industry understands this,” Ritz said in a July 10 news conference closing the agriculture ministers’ annual conference. But he acknowledged the cost of traceability shouldn’t be forced on producers.
“I’m here to assure them that this isn’t another one of those programs where all the farmers see is the bill in the mailbox. That’s why we’re bringing forward programs like the auction mart, stimulus money and so on to adjust, so that farmers aren’t charged when they bring in that steer or heifer.”
But Ryder Lee, CCA’s manager of federal-provincial relations, said his organization prefers a more cautious approach to traceability.
CCA feels existing technology isn’t up to handling the rapid, high-volume movement of cattle at auction markets.
CCA’s standing policy on beef cattle traceability says the technology “must be capable of reading ID at a rate which accommodates normal commerce.”
Lee said livestock traceability involves three so-called pillars: individual ID tags, premise identification and movement tracking. Cattle ID tags are already standard and individual provinces either have premise ID systems or are working on them. That leaves tracking the movement of animals as the remaining step.
But more work is needed to develop movement tracking systems that “do what we say we’ll do” without “sticking it to the producer,” Lee said.
Joe Bouchard, Manitoba Cattle Producers Association president, agreed traceability shouldn’t be an added cost to farmers.
But if there is traceability, it must be a national system. Provinces shouldn’t be left to do their own thing, Bouchard said.
“We really don’t need 20 different programs. We need a national program.” [email protected]