Traceability Just Another Annoyance In ID Saga – for Sep. 13, 2010

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It’s getting to be more than 10 years since the cattle and livestock identification (ID) issue has dragged on its long weary course. I say this because even last month at a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) committee meeting, attendees were grappling with the latest chapter, that being the rush to traceability, instigated by the federal government.

Producers and the industry are growing exasperated, frustrated and agitated with what seems like a never-ending series of demands, changes and additions to an ID system that has already cost the industry and taxpayers millions of dollars. The original premise was a good one – national livestock ID, that in conjunction with branding provided a solid system to deal with disease tracebacks. The BSE crisis proved the system’s worth, and some marketing advantage has been an added bonus.

Since then, by accident or design, the cattle industry in particular has been in a constant state of turmoil with everything related to ID. From national ID, to age verification, to premise ID, bar code to RFID changeover, and now traceability. I know it’s a delusion, but couldn’t all of this been done at one time? Now we hear that perhaps we are using the wrong RFID technology and that it needs to change. What’s next? A GPS location device on every cow?

Common sense is desperately needed just to unravel why we need to do some of these things. I expect most producers long ago lost any understanding as to need, although they do understand that on the whole they get to pay the cost up front.

Part of the problem seems to be government busybodiness (no surprise there) in matters that should be left to the market. I can understand mandatory livestock and premise ID, the others as I see it, should all be market and incentive based. One would expect that the Canada Gold marketing program would provide a premium to encourage age verification. Or perhaps age verification information could be locked up by the cow-calf producer until someone is willing to pay for the information.

Instead we see taxpayer dollars being used to bribe the producer into giving it away for free, all for marketing beef into certain limited export markets.

Traceability suddenly became a darling of the federal minister of agriculture and arbitrary implementation dates were established. Apparently we have to have this right now, but it seems Ag Canada bureaucrats forgot to see if we had reliable technology to do traceability without slowing commerce. Heck, there are still problems with existing RFID tags and readers, never mind expanding their use and application to any movement tracing.

Public or private good?

This federal intrusion also brings into question as to who benefits, the industry or the public good. We hear the usual fear-mongering statements such as that if we don’t implement traceability it will be imposed on the industry with draconian consequences; the industry will collapse because we will lose our markets; we need it to deal with catastrophic disease outbreaks; and of course when all else fails it’s always due to “food safety” concerns.

Be that as it may there should have been a good hard look at what traceability actually means, and certainly a go-slow approach. It’s now clear that big problems exist with the technology required to read tags at livestock sales centres, feedlots and pasture movements. The implementation date will likely not be achieved in practice or reliability.

The other issue that is not resolved is who should pay for traceability information gathering. The feds as usual throw out a few grants to soothe any initial anxiety, but essentially they are dumping it on the industry to cover the cost. Perhaps a way can be found for the feds to pay for traceability information on an ongoing basis, the point being if they want it, they can pay for it, and that goes for any agency or group.

In the meantime the CCA and its provincial allies have had to continue their over-10- year mandate to represent producer interests whenever ID-related issues are of concern or are invented. They have a thankless job, that being having to deal with industry and producer angst and anger, while having to deal with governments who give them no real choices on ID issues.

Stories circulate about radical elements in the cattle industry actively thwarting traceability and other ID initiatives. I expect that may be wishful thinking or whisky talk. I suspect cattle producers will either grin and bear it, or add traceability and its related issues as just more reasons to quit the industry.

As Alberta cattle numbers slowly but surely drop to the million-head level, I believe that observation probably has some validity.


Theoriginalpremisewasagood onenationallivestockID,that providedasolidsystemtodeal withdiseasetracebacks.

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