No matter how big or small, you have to start to tag them all.
With the final phase of the Canadian Pork Council’s PigTrace national traceability program now in effect, both commercial and hobby farms can face financial penalties for failure to comply.
Right now though regulators appear to still be focusing more on education than enforcement, but that could change.
“Even if you only have two or three pigs in the backyard, you have to comply,” said PigTrace Canada manager, Jeff Clark. “So whether I have one pig I bought this spring and it’s my first time buying a pig and I ship to slaughter this fall, even to a small abattoir… or I have a hog barn, you have to be registered.”
Fines start at $1,300 for minor infractions and serious breaches such as counterfeiting tags carry a $10,000 penalty. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces the program, which was first introduced in July 2014.
While the federal inspection agency would not provide an interview regarding the traceability program, it intimated that no fines had been levied in a written response sent just before press time.
The email indicated that “at this time, CFIA is continuing to increase compliance by educating affected parties such as farmers, custodians of pigs and pet owners of their responsibilities to properly identify, keep records and report the movement of these animals.”
The statement went on to explain that educational tools include awareness campaigns and letters of non-compliance.
“Most government inspectors have been very reasonable and are focused on education, getting them in touch with us and then we can take it from there,” said Clark. “Now if it’s repeated activity, like not identifying a pig going to slaughter or not reporting movements or whatever, they will get a letter of non-compliance, which is a written notice sent to the person, the producer, the abattoir or whatever.”
So far, most cases of non-compliance have involved hobby farms or backyard farms that aren’t in regular contact with a producer organization and simply aren’t aware that there is a traceability program that requires their participation.
Clark said that of the 11,000 registrants the program had by June, about 3,000 of them were backyard hobby farmers. Many of whom only had a couple of pigs, which they intended to use for their own consumption.
“We do go the extra mile to make it simple for them, because I mean this is not a big brother program, it’s not so Maple Leaf can export, it’s because Canada doesn’t really have a lot of people in terms of human resources to respond to an emergency, so it’s about getting ahead of it if something happens, knowing where every pig is going to and from,” he said.
That makes sense to small-scale producers like Collin Ferris, who has about 100 pasture-raised pigs on his farm near Portage la Prairie, which he sells direct to the consumer.
“It’s import that we have some sort of food safety system in place,” he said. “We go to an abattoir, so we use the slap tattoos, and then they know whose animals is whose and where it comes from. Then we have a premise ID number and all that other good stuff.”
Given the traceability programs in place for Canadian beef, Ferris said it was only a matter of time before pork producers also got on board with increased traceability.
“It just makes sense,” he added.
However, the program does maintain some ambiguity around pet pigs and entertainment pigs, such as those used for petting zoos or racing. Clark said he understands why someone with a pet pig that will never leave a yard or petting zoo wouldn’t want to tag or tattoo the animal.
“I’m on the side of the person with the pet or the racing pig. They exist and we want to help people with that,” he said, adding an internal CFIA memo has urged inspectors to focus on “agricultural” animals. Pets and entertainment pigs still need to be registered and their movements reported, but Clark said he will defend the decision not to tag in those cases.
“It’s not like an auction where pigs are coming from all different locations and they’re mixed around and then are going out to different locations, ear tags do need to be in those pigs, because otherwise it would be impossible. But these pigs stay put or travel in a group,” he said.
While he didn’t want to single any one area of the country out for being slow to comply with the traceability program, Clark noted that Manitoba was ahead of the curve when it came to program adoption.
“So we keep working,” he said. “But I can say we’ve met a lot of really interesting people with this program, I mean there is the business side, trade and the global marketplace… and then there is the small-scale part, it’s been really interesting for sure.”