The odds of meeting the 2011 deadline for implementing a nationwide gate-to-plate traceability scheme don’t look good.
Industry sources say problems with hardware and software are hindering progress in developing an effective system to scan RFID tags on cattle moving through auction marts, and generally, government has been slow to provide the money to back up its ambitious agenda.
“The government has its deadlines, and the CCIA has gone back to it with an implementation plan, but I think a lot of the deadlines are still up in the air as to where, when and how,” said Pat Hayes, a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association director who sits on the board of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA).
“One of the big things as we’ve said is, that it can’t impede the speed of commerce. That’s a sticking point for us. At present, the technology isn’t there to do it.”
A CCIA report released in June stated that a test run of a variety of commercially available RFID reader technology at eight auction markets found that read accuracy was “volatile” and fluctuated daily and weekly at different locations and with different group sizes.
In some cases, the rate of accuracy was as low as 78 per cent, said Hayes, well short of the government’s stated goal of 95 per cent, or the level of statistical probability. Concerns about software problems at the farm and feedlot level have been identified, and due to economies of scale, the burden on smaller operators is greater than for their larger rivals, he added.
Some of the more radical elements of the ranching community have declared their intention of not co-operating with the traceability scheme, and some have threatened to quit tagging their calves altogether, said Hayek.
“One of the things that has ticked off a lot of ranchers is the retention issue,” he said, referring to problems with tags falling out.
Some ranchers are not impressed with the quality of the tags from approved sources, and the fact that they are forced to buy them by regulations only adds to their anger. Seemingly small problems need to be resolved before traceability can move on to the next level, he added.
Unlike some, Hayes personally doesn’t see similarities between the national livestock traceability and other government schemes such as the universally despised long-gun registry. That ambi- tious traceability scheme for firearms cost over a billion dollars to implement, and failed in its goal of registering all guns in the country, even with the threat of stiff penalties for noncompliance.
“I was involved with some of the meetings when we first set up the ID system. We had a lot of wild farmers and ranchers,” he said. “But in 2003, when we had BSE, a lot of them were glad we had the system. None of them apologized, but they were glad we had it.”
In a presentation on issues from the feedlot perspective, past-CCA president Brad Wildeman and adviser to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, said that although he supports traceability in principle, the present technology is too expensive, incapable of meeting the objectives, and has too many problems.
“Simply willing this thing to happen by making bold statements and veiled threats to the industry isn’t going to get it done,” said Wildeman.
Without tangible benefits, it simply adds to the existing regulatory burden, which already includes onerous rules for specified risk materials (SRMs) that aggravate the cattle sector’s poor international competitiveness.
“If laws are embraced, enforcement becomes unnecessary. But if laws are despised, enforcement becomes impossible,” he said.
Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture announced last year that a mandatory comprehensive national traceability system for livestock will be in place by 2011.
Key elements of a traceability system are animal identification, premises identification, and movement tracking. It is estimated that there are more than 150 auction marts that will require the installation of RFID reader systems to achieve full traceability. [email protected]
“Simplywillingthisthing tohappenbymakingbold statementsandveiled threatstotheindustryisn’t goingtogetitdone.”
– BRAD WILDEMAN