Paperwork: Costly, But Doing The Job

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At every turn there’s more and more paperwork around the cattle business, but it does pay off or at least reduce the downside. It may seem you don’t see the benefits but without that paperwork and the processes behind it, there’d be even less money circulating in the whole cattle industry.

“It isn’t getting easier. We deal with it because it’s something we have to do,” says Steve Primrose, summarizing most cattlemen’s opinion of paperwork.

Primrose, who is chair of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) and owner of Primrose Livestock near Lethbridge, says he’s happy with the way the traceability system is running.

“People are getting used to the system,” he says. “It’s been cumbersome and aggravating, but we’ve been working with it to the point that it works pretty well now,” says Primrose.

“Almost everybody (who handles big numbers of cattle) has a reader and they’ve accommodated any changes they needed in their facilities. We can read tags as we run cattle through the chutes at very close to regular speed.”

Primrose says the new system is much better than dangle tags.

“Reading those would just about shut everything down. It’s not too surprising really. We’ve all had the experience every now and again of an item that won’t scan at the grocery store, where everything is clean. It’s much worse when you’re dealing with manure and hair and everything else around cattle. The RFID tags and the readers are a lot better.”

Cattlemen have become pretty good at using CCIA tags, says Primrose. It’s a matter of education. The CCIA has a big stick to encourage people to comply since there’s a $500 fine for allowing an animal to leave your farm without a tag, people pay attention.

At the end of this year, all tags must be an RFID tag, even if the animal already has a dangle tag with a bar code. Those animals have to carry both tags and have the two cross-referenced in the Canadian Livestock Tracking System. You can get help doing this at 1-877-909-BEEF(2333).

This won’t be the end of changes that require more paperwork and higher costs, The next step will be a requirement to identify your premises and obtain technology to record the home location of cattle on the RFID tags.


Primrose has cattle liners on the road every day, with many bound for U.S. meat plants. That involves huge amounts of well-organized paperwork. Every driver has to go through a rigorous screening process to be approved for a special FAST-card, an identity card issued by U.S. Customs and the Canadian Border Services Agency that allows them rapid processing at the U.S. border. Primrose dispatchers have to forward details

”Sixty per cent of our beef exports were live cattle, but COOL has all but ended that.”

on who the driver will be and what animals will be shipped as well as the time when they can be expected at the customs post, where the USDA inspects documents.

Documentation on cattle includes proof of ownership, a report from a veterinarian on the health of the animals, and U.S. Customs export clearance, as well as weight tickets. Managing even one part of this a little faster through RFID tags is worthwhile. “The paperwork is costly,” says Primrose. “We’re paying more and more to the Canadian government I figure it’s probably $8 of the $65 it costs to ship a fat animal from Lethbridge to Pasco Washington is for paperwork.”

Faster passage through customs isn’t helping to raise numbers of cattle going south. “Exports are dropping dramatically,” says Primrose. “Sixty per cent of our beef exports were live cattle, but COOL has all but ended that. COOL doesn’t exclude Canadian beef from the U.S., it’s simply that processors, wholesalers and retailers don’t want to segregate our beef.”

He says there are heavy penalties for providing wrong information on the origins of beef and pork.

“Right now, there’s plenty of beef available and there’s no reason for them to risk those fines. Things could change of course if they were ever to run short of beef, but there’s no sign of that.” he says.

Canada has filed a challenge to COOL under the WTO, but those cases take a long time to resolve. And in the meantime a par dollar makes yet another reason not to export to the U.S.

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