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Expert Panel Points To Major Problems

Major hurdles need to be overcome before a national beef traceability system can be introduced, members of an expert panel told beef producers meeting here Nov. 4.

We have a bookend system, said Darcy Eddleston, chair of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency s board of directors, at the Manitoba Beef Producers annual general meeting.

We know where the animal was born and where it died or was exported and left the country. We have to start to fill in between those two ends to make the system better.

Animal ID, or ear tags, have been 99-100 per cent achieved since July of 2002, although retention and data errors still dog the system.

Premises ID (PID), known as the second pillar of traceability for its role in documenting the legal land description, or home quarter, where animals are kept, grown, assembled and disposed of, must come before the third pillar, cattle movement tracking, can be achieved.

Premises ID is the linchpin for capturing cattle movements in this country, he said.

Because it deals with property, which is a provincial jurisdiction, the provinces have been tasked with implementing it.

But some provinces are really lagging behind on PID, said Manitoba chief veterinary officer Dr. Wayne Lees.

Apart from Quebec and Alberta, all other provinces are still making registration voluntary.

We ve got ours up and running. It s working, we ve used it, said Lees, citing as an example the recent grassfires in eastern Manitoba.

Although Manitoba has made registration mandatory since late 2010, only 31 per cent of all beef operations have applied for a PID number, compared to 100 per cent for pigs, dairy, and poultry.

We re in encouragement mode, we re not in hitting-people-over-the-head mode, said Lees.

Lees noted that some confusion has resulted from splinter efforts, such as the assigning of PIDs under the West Hawk Lake Zoning Initiative, which has since stopped.

Only one PID, the one issued from the province, is required, he added.

The next step is to pull the systems together into a national portal that would link together all the different systems.

Trevor Atchison, chair of MBP s production committee, cited a list of problems that stand in the way of a beef traceability system.

First off, he said, PID does not function on a national level, because every province has a different, incompatible system.

Some provinces think they are ahead, but are they just running a different race? said Atchison. We hear about a national portal that CFIA is to develop, but currently that thing is a phantom. I don t know of anyone that s even working on it.

Atchison added that the existing tools for recording animal data at the farm level sucks.

We ve got $5,000 invested on our place, he said. Simple little things, like the batteries in the reader that die after 100 reads.

Rick Wright, vice-chair of the Livestock Markets Association of Canada (LMAC), said that although the group supports traceability in principle, it does not support the proposal to scan cattle at auction marts and buying stations.

Our position at LMAC is that traceability is a management tool for CFIA and other government agencies, he said, adding that for that reason, government should pay 100 per cent of the cost to cover everything from readers, software, employee training, and structural and ongoing costs.

He noted that a recent pilot project that scanned half a million cattle at auction markets found no synergies.

At the end, it was concluded that there was no benefit to the markets, the buyers, or the producers when they were scanned at the auction mart level as an individual animal, said Wright.

The LMAC has also requested that the CFIA overhaul its enforcement procedures to apply more common sense, and focus on primary producers, not auction markets.

The onus has been put on us to check your cattle to make sure they have tags in, he said. Our sector never, ever agreed to be the sheriff checking all the cattle coming in. But right now, we are the ones under the microscope.

Barbara Jordan, associate vice-president of policy for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), said that the agency s 3,000 inspectors are to be trained by April of next year in order to create consistent enforcement protocols.

She added that there is no plan to track movements from pasture to pasture at the cow-calf level, and that mandatory movement reporting requirements at large feedlots and abattoirs will not proceed until the industry is ready.

Although there is a perception that the CFIA is heavy handed in enforcement particularly about ear tags, only true and the worst offenders will be punished.

She noted that in 2010, there were an average of six fines per month, and in 2011, that number dropped to three per month out of about three million cattle movements per year.

We re not looking to penalize people. We re trying to get a system that works, she said.

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We hear about a national portal that CFIA is to develop, but currently that thing is a phantom. I don t know of anyone that s even working on it.

TREVOR ATCHISON

MBP production committee chair

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