Government Must Open Purse Strings, Says CCIA Chair

“…at the end of the day we have to decide what benefits are we getting out of this? Where is it going to get us? How much is it going to cost? …Because it is going to cost a lot, a lot more than the government thinks.”

– Steve Primrose

The deadlines for implementing the next stage of Canada’s national beef traceability system are looming.

All that’s needed now is money – lots of it – because the task will require enormous amounts of time, expense and effort, according to Steve Primrose, chair of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, who gave an update on progress at the MCPA annual general meeting in mid-December.

“Our first pillar – getting a unique tag number in the animal – that was a big undertaking,” said Primrose.

“We’ve achieved that pillar. Now we’re talking about premises ID. That’s the second pillar. Then there’s the third pillar: movement. These are big.”

The biggest hurdle now is lack of money, said Primrose.

SLOW FUNDS

Producer groups and industry have already come up with $50 million over the past five years compared to just $6 million from government since the project was first conceived a decade ago.

Money has been promised as part of the latest incarnation of the $500-million Growing Forward program, but it has been slow to flow.

“We are not going to pay the whole shot. The way the cattle industry is today, we don’t have any extra money left to be doing this,” he said.

Primary premise ID as it stands means a validated, legal description of the home quarter of a farm or the GPS location of an operation and its contiguous land base. Alberta is nearly finished, while Saskatchewan is just starting.

COMMINGLING

Discussions are ongoing with regard to registering the premises ID for commingling facilities and setting them up to read tags, be they community pastures, assembly yards, feedlots and auction marts by the end of Sept. 1, 2010.

A caveat has been added, however. Until technology is found that can “support the speed of commerce,” participation in the program will not be mandatory.

That is aimed at preventing a fiasco that would bring the cattle trade to its knees. To that end, pilot projects to test equipment at auction markets are underway in Manitoba and Alberta.

“For all the producers in our system, we have a name and a box number or address, but we don’t have that premise location,” he said. “We’ve got about 30,000 today, and we’re building on that.”

Dec. 31, 2010, is the proposed target for getting all the provinces on board with a workable mandatory system for premises ID.

“Those are tight timelines. Are we going to get there? Maybe, maybe not, but we’re going to work on it.”

ANIMAL MOVEMENT

The third pillar, animal movement, has a deadline of Jan. 1, 2013. It promises to be the greatest source of “aggravation,” according to Primrose. First off, the exact definition of what it means has yet to be hammered out by all the stakeholders.

What the government wants, and what is achievable at a reasonable cost, is an open question, he added.

“We think we can put a system together that can track the movements of cattle. But at the end of the day we have to decide what benefits are we getting out of this? Where is it going to get us? How much is it going to cost?” he said.

“Because it is going to cost a lot. A lot more than the government thinks.”

SLUGGISH

Progress on age verification has been sluggish, even with Alberta imposing a mandatory program. At the end of 2008, the number of age-verified calves in Canada was 51 per cent. This year, as of Nov. 30, it was only 33 per cent, possibly because of the late start for the fall calf run.

“That’s not a great number. I think those numbers will move up, but we need to do a better job of communicating the benefits of age verification,” said Primrose. “I don’t know if everyone knows this, but it’s the only way to access markets outside of North America.”

RFID tag retention issues continue to dog producers, but the problem is mainly due to improper placement in the ear, he added.

Also, assessment of reader technology is ongoing. In the coming months, evaluations of currently available technologies will be posted on the CCIA web-site so that people can make more informed purchasing decisions.

IGNORING IT PERILOUS

There is a critical need for producer involvement in discussions of traceability, said Primrose, because if no input is received, ranchers who opted to ignore the whole process may not like the form it takes when it finally arrives on their doorstep.

Worse still, if ranchers don’t like it, and don’t accept it, the whole project may “blow to smithereens.

“You cannot let government talk about traceability – your livelihood – without having somebody there at that table. Their wish list tends to get pretty crazy,” he said. “You’ve got to be there.”

Some ranchers may be wondering if the proposed national traceability scheme might wind up being an even bigger fiasco than the national long-gun registry, which ended up costing nearly $2 billion and still can’t account for every firearm in the country.

“That won’t happen. We have no intention of spending a billion dollars. We’re not going to pay one more nickel until we get the government at the table with their chequebook,” said Primrose. [email protected]

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