Knowing Where To Find Them — And Where They Came From – for Aug. 16, 2010

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Canadian sheep producers will be required to install radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags to their animals as of January 2012. To facilitate this, several groups have been working together to research and develop a practical process by means of the Alberta Lamb Traceability Pilot Project, said Susan Hosford, a business development officer with Alberta Agriculture.

Hosford explained the project at two information sessions held at Lakeland College and Olds College in the middle of July. Hosford said the project is one of the largest ever undertaken by the Alberta sheep industry.

Lamb traceability helps producers deal with global issues such as biosecurity and food safety, said Hosford. “Being able to trace a lamb chop from where that lamb was born, to where it grew up and everywhere it stopped on that journey, to a consumer’s plate, is a challenge,” she said. “I think radio frequency identification and electronic technology is the only way that we will be able to achieve it.”

The Alberta Lamb Traceability Pilot Project was started four years ago and is now in its third year. Project team leaders hope electronic identification will provide producers with more accurate and timely financial data, and an easier time tracking stock.

Surveyed other systems

Four years ago, members of the project team went to New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom in search of electronic sheep traceability systems. The team included representatives from Alberta Agriculture, the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, Sunterra Meats, the Alberta Lamb Producers and the Canadian Sheep Federation, Olds and Lakeland College and sheep producers from across the province, who are testing the new technology.

A functioning lamb traceability system uses numerous technological components including RFID tags, a tag reader and computer- based management software. Some producers have also decided to use supplementary tools such as electronic scales and handling equipment.

Sunterra Meats has been working on a plant traceability module that will electronically grade lamb carcasses. The carcass data on every lamb with an RFID tag can be added to Sheep Central, an electronic database that will be available to all producers.

Hosford said the lack of RFID tags currently being used has resulted in incomplete data at the plant.

“There are so many variables because we have so few lambs with RFID tags,” she said. “We would really like to see more lambs with RFID tags next year because that way, we can make the systems work better if we have enough lambs going through the plant.”

All the data from Sunterra Meats will then be supplied to the Sheep Central database. Producers will be able to compare all the lambs shipped to Sunterra, which will help improve the quality of lambs in the province.

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“Being able to trace a lamb chop from where that lamb was born, to where it grew up and everywhere it stopped on that journey, to a consumer’s plate, is a challenge.”

SUSAN HOSFORD

AARD

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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