Manitoba bovine producers are getting a glimpse of their export future.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says a new pilot will significantly cut down on the time farmers and veterinarians spend on paperwork for live bovine export.
Exporters shipping live cattle or bison through the Emerson port south of Winnipeg can now complete their export certificates online on the My CFIA platform, now opened up for beef and bison producers.
Dr. Stephani McLean of the CFIA says the pilot project is tied to the federal government’s move towards online services. As part of that, the CFIA launched My CFIA in 2017 and began gradually folding in services for various commodities. The platform was designed as a personalized hub through which businesses could interact with CFIA for export certificates, licences and permits.
Bison and cattle are the latest commodity to have export paperwork streamlined through My CFIA.
Without the pilot, many producers exporting bovine were interacting with the CFIA through their veterinarians, McLean said.
“What that meant was, a lot of times, the accredited vets were arranging for the papers to get to the CFIA office for us to endorse it and then, essentially, CFIA would bill the accredited veterinarian, who would in turn bill the exporters,” she said.
With the My CFIA system, producers will have to invite their veterinarian to set up their own account, after which paperwork can be sent directly through to both the vet and the CFIA without requiring the producer to hand deliver or mail the paperwork for signatures, a process McLean said could otherwise take hours or days.
Leonard Epp of Stonewall says the pilot cut what once took three hours into less than half an hour in front of the computer — not counting the additional 20 minutes it took to set up his My CFIA account.
“The longest part was entering tag numbers,” he said.
“When you’re on your account, your vet’s attached to your account and as soon as you send it, they get it and now they sign it; it goes into CFIA; they stamp it and it’s back in your computer and you print it off,” he added. “It’s saved a ton of time already.”
Epp, and his load of bison slated for the U.S., was the first real-world test subject for the pilot after it launched in December 2019.
Epp generally exports several hundred head of bison in a year.
There are some quirks, he acknowledged. The producer must ensure that the business name registered with My CFIA matches perfectly with Canada Revenue Agency records, he noted, something he initially ran afoul of when he forgot the “Inc.” behind his farm name, Rockwood Bison.
“In the beginning, it was a little daunting when you looked at the website, but with how much help and how available the CFIA people are who are involved with this, it’s not that difficult at all. They’ll walk you through it,” he said.
He also had no problem convincing his veterinarian to sign on with the program, he added.
The Manitoba Beef Producers has also welcomed the program.
MBP president Dianne Riding said her organization sees value in reducing red tape and therefore speeding up processing for export certification.
“The Canadian cattle industry, like other sectors, would like to see a reduction in regulatory burden that can slow the pace of commerce,” she said. “Technology can help in this area, such as looking at a system of e-certification for the export of live cattle.”
Some exporters expressed worry that the new, electronic certificates would not process in time for their loads, McLean said, although she added that concern has dropped since the first loads have successfully passed the border.
“On the most recent electronic certificate that we just issued, it was a load for cull dairy cows that were purchased and assembled at an auction mart just hours before the certificate was endorsed,” McLean said. “This load was destined for immediate slaughter, so industry was both excited about the opportunity to use My CFIA, as well as it was still a little concerned on whether we would be able to deliver service without the risk of impacting transport times… and we were able to demonstrate that we could succeed in this and get these cows across.”
McLean also addressed concerns with data privacy and fraud, two common questions when critical information such as export paperwork goes digital.
McLean pointed to the CFIA Certificate Viewer tool, which allows stakeholders to search, and therefore authenticate, electronic export certificates by certificate number. Confidential information will be blotted out when those documents come up, McLean added. The platform has also integrated secure log-ins and corporate firewalls around confidential information provided to the CFIA, McLean said.
Ten exporters and 13 veterinarians have signed on with the pilot since Epp’s successful trial run.
Exporters have shown renewed interest since that first test, McLean said, and the CFIA has begun enrolling producers and veterinarians further from the Emerson port, “so that when these ports open, they’re ready to go.”
“With anything new, there’s always a reluctance to be first,” she said. “At the same time, it’s such a great opportunity for industry to have an impact at the grassroots level and have direct feedback that can help shape the future of live animal export.”
The CFIA says it plans to expand the program to other ports through March and April, although McLean says the pace will be largely determined by how many producers sign on to the pilot through Emerson, and how much feedback her team gets.
Some minor technical improvements can only be discovered by people using the new program, McLean said.
“Using the system is what helps us at CFIA understand if it’s ready for further expansion,” she said.
The CFIA is encouraging producers to both sign up with the program and to get their accredited veterinarians to do the same.