Manitoba cattle producers are being told to swallow their resentment and follow new livestock guidelines set in Alberta if they want to sell calves there.
That includes age verifying animals as required by a new Alberta meat and livestock strategy.
The $356 million program announced last year requires a mandatory traceability system for livestock in the province, which includes age verification and premise ID.
As a result, cattle from other provinces shipped to Alberta must also be age verified or risk price discounts, the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association is telling its members.
Jay Fox, an MCPA director, admitted it “ticks Manitoba off” to have to obey requirements set unilaterally in Alberta without consultation with other provinces.
But producers risk losing money if they don’t, said Fox, who raises cattle near Eddystone.
He said Alberta feedlots likely won’t refuse non-age-verified calves because they’re needed to fill capacity. But the animals will likely be discounted all the way through the system.
MCPA estimates a non-age-verified beef animal sold to Alberta could be discounted by 15 cents a pound. That’s $180 for a 1,200-pound steer.
Fox said age verifying cattle is easy and free. Animals can be registered at birth in a database operated by the Canadian Cattle Indentification Agency. MCPA and provincial agriculture offices will help producers register animals at no cost.
MCPA brought Charlie Gracey, an Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency director, to Manitoba recently to explain the Alberta program.
Gracey acknowledged the program causes concern. He admitted some producers in other provinces feel Alberta is shoving it down their throats.
But livestock traceability is the wave of the future and it’s critical to get a system going in Canada, Gracey said.
Pacific Rim countries and other nations are starting to demand traceability for meat imports. Having it will give Canada a competitive advantage in foreign markets, especially against the United States, where traceability is barely on the radar screen, said Gracey.
Canada exports over half of the beef it produces. In 2007, 78 per cent of Canada’s beef exports went to the U. S. That figure rose to 90 per cent when live cattle were included.
Because Canada’s red meat sector lives and dies by exports, traceability as a marketing tool is critical, Gracey said.
Rick Burton, Alberta Beef Producers chairman, recognized other provinces have mixed feelings about his government’s move.
But Alberta, which has roughly two million beef cows, had to take action on traceability because nothing was happening at the national level, he said.
“To me, it makes all the sense in the world to have these animals age verified. I don’t question that at all,” said Burton, a producer from Claresholm, Alberta.
Burton also acknowledged non-age-verified cattle arriving in Alberta will probably be discounted. But he said it’s inevitable.
“If there is (no discount), then age verification does not have any value in the marketplace.”
The Alberta livestock strategy is also controversial at home. ABP producers express discontent at the fact that the province made traceability compulsory, not voluntary.
But Burton said his association now recognizes the writing is on the wall.
“We understand that age verification is mandatory, it is the law and I think time spent trying to change that is probably time wasted.” [email protected]