The Canadian government will not change its 2011 target date for mandatory cattle traceability, even though producers say it’s not achievable.
“If we don’t have a target, it’ll never happen,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association national convention here.
“The date is there. It is solid. We’re firm on it. We’re looking hard at it. We’re going to work with you to make sure we can make it economic and efficient at the same time.”
The federal government last month announced $20 million toward a system aimed at verifying the age of food animals and tracing their movements from the farm gate to the consumer’s plate.
The money will help auction markets upgrade handling systems to track individual animals as they are mixed with other herds at auction.
Ottawa and the provinces earlier announced their commitment to livestock traceability and age verification as a food safety measure.
Some overseas buyers, especially in Asia, say they need to know the age and origin of cattle to guard against diseases such as BSE.
But CCA claims the existing technology isn’t up to tracking large volumes of animals according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s standards.
“The reason we can’t get to where they want to go is because the technology simply isn’t there to read 100 per cent of the cattle 100 per cent of the time with accuracy,” said Brad Wildeman, CCA president.
“That’s what CFIA has said they need to have full traceability. We’re telling them over and over again it simply cannot be done.”
But Ritz insisted Canada needs a system to trace livestock through the food chain because that’s what foreign importers want.
“If we’re serious about international trade, if we’re serious about getting into the Japanese and Korean markets, this is what’s going to be required,” he said following a bearpit session with CCA delegates.
Wildeman said CCA supports traceability, but the government’s goal is unrealistic.
Large auction markets handle up to thousands of animals an hour and checking all individual ID tags electronically is not feasible, he said.
CFIA should either improve the technology or lower its acceptability threshold before going ahead, said Wildeman.
“Until they’re ready to do that, we’re saying, look, it’s not attainable. Don’t make a promise you can’t keep because you won’t be able to keep it.”
Wildeman said he doubted Ritz’s claims that overseas nations won’t buy Canada’s beef without traceability.
The United States has no national traceability system, shows no signs of developing one, yet continues to be a major beef exporter, he said.
One of CCA’s concerns is that the cost of implementing mandatory traceability and age verification will ultimately get passed back to producers.
Ritz said the government will help reimburse producers for added costs, although he did not give details.
“We’re not going to have a program where all you see is a bill in your mailbox. We want to have a program that actually facilitates market access,” he told the meeting. [email protected]