The federal government is inching towards completion of the national livestock traceability system promised for this year, but there’s still no sign of enabling legislation.
In mid-January, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced applications for funding for projects under the Livestock Auction Traceability Initiative will be accepted until April 1.
Jean-Pierre Blackburn, minister of state for agriculture, announced a contribution of up to $969,920 to Agri- Traabilité Québec to support the automation and updating of its livestock traceability system.
“Consumers want to know where food comes from, and countries which can supply that information will win the business,” Ritz said in a statement. “Our initiative will provide valuable support to the industry in meeting traceability requirements which will, in turn, boost farmers’ profitability.”
Up to $20 million is available through the initiative during the next three years to allow auction marts, assembly yards, feedlots, backgrounders, fairs and exhibitions, privately managed community pastures, and other high-risk, high-volume, commingling sites to upgrade their facilities and purchase equipment to help identify and trace individual animals, he said.
Canadian consumers and foreign customers are looking for enhanced traceability, he said. Quick and effective tracking will also help the industry avoid potential animal and food safety risks and mitigate the spread if an outbreak occurs.
The government has supported the development and implementation of traceability processes and systems through several programs. It still has to deal with farmer doubts about the reliability of the RFID system that replaced ID tags in mid-2010, and pass legislation authorizing the national traceability system, farm leaders say.
While officials have been drafting legislation, there’s no indication when it might be presented to Parliament. If a national election is called this year, it will push the process back six months to a year, or more.
Brian Sterling, CEO of OnTrace, the Ontario body promoting food traceability, has warned the government about farmer doubts about the benefits of traceability.
Processors wonder “whether the benefits will outweigh the investments in money and time. Many producers see more paperwork that benefits government but not themselves,” he said.
It will help government in emergency disease management situations but return little to the producer, except for more work, he said.
“In most cases, it’s a matter of getting existing data systems to use information collected when livestock are shipped off the farm.”
Brad Wildeman, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, believes it would be better to use traceability to tell customers where the cattle were raised.
He also questions the reliability of the RFID equipment.
“The idea that we’re going to have mandatory traceability of 100 per cent of the cattle, 100 per cent of the time, simply isn’t achievable with the technology we have today.”
Sterling says the fruit and vegetable industry has made major strides in introducing technology, especially among apple and grape growers. The push for traceability in the produce sector comes south of the border. United States regulations require tracing from the field to the store.
“The U.S. is well ahead but the Canadian industry is tagging along. They have to because American retailers require traceability information that says where the product comes from.”