by JIM ALGIE
After 15 years of development and with annual estimated costs currently of about $20 million, Canada still has an “ineffective” livestock traceability system “when compared to the potential,” a new, hard-hitting analysis of tracking systems in Australia and Ontario says.
The 20-page report by Oakville-based consultants, Value Chain Management International Inc., describes “a culture of inertia” and outright “resistance to change” that have led to significant investment in systems for livestock tracking which nevertheless have “failed to meet their stated goals.” Written by Martin Gooch, Delia Bucknell and Brian Sterling, the report Comparative Analysis of Beef Traceability Capabilities and Practices in Australia and Ontario was released Monday and is available through the company’s website.
In comparing Canadian and Australian systems, the report gives the edge to Australia by a long shot. Mandatory reporting through the Australian National Livestock Identification System provides “three pillars of effective chain-length traceability . . . movement reporting, premises ID, and animal ID,” the report says. It generates information useful in food safety investigations but also for individual producers who can use carcass yield data to help make management decisions about effective feeding and animal breeding tactics.
“Compared to Australia, Canada does not have an effective beef traceability system at an industry level,” the report says. Although it meets the need to mitigate risk in the event of disease issues, it fails to provide “the same pro-active, value-adding and business intelligence opportunities” available in Australia.
Lambton County cow-calf producer Tim Fugard, who accompanied Gooch on a fact-finding mission last year to Australia, has read the report and agrees with much of what it says.
“We as Canadians have not defined or accepted the reality of the purpose of traceability,” Fugard said in an interview, Wednesday. “We have pieces of it. We have good intent to have traceability systems. We believe in the system; but it’s all that reality of what is it, who pays for it and what is the outcome” he said.
Funded partly by money from the federal Growing Forward 2 program, the report identifies significant opportunity for Ontario beef farmers because of their proximity to Canada’s largest food manufacturing cluster as well as concentrated population centres in the province and in nearby U.S. jurisdictions. The report also identifies supportive provincial government policies for broader livestock tracking activity and the availability in Ontario of “capable traceability service providers.”
Gaps in existing systems interfere, however, with the ability of producers, industry, government and researchers to “make informed decisions and together establish a more innovative, sustainable and profitable beef industry,” the report says.
As it is, the Canadian system requires only radio frequency tags for cattle before they leave their place of birth and the retirement of those tags at slaughter. Tag data have been useful in disease management issues but there are troublesome provincial variations in the reporting of farm premises, livestock movement and ownership transfer.
Quebec is the only province to require mandatory reporting of livestock movement and changes in ownership. Alberta requires movement reports for cattle entering feedlots of 1,000 animals or more. Property identification codes are only mandatory in Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.
Australia’s mandatory system for identification of animals, premises and livestock movements was introduced following an export scare involving traces of herbicide in exported beef, Gooch said in an interview. And it seems to be working, he said.
“There’s a similarity in the issues Australia and Canada face, hence the opportunity to learn from them,” Gooch said of his criticism of the existing Canadian system.
“It shouldn’t be interpreted as criticism, it should be interpreted as an objective assessment,” Gooch said of the report. A former Australian cattle and crops farmer with an academic background in food system value chains, Gooch has conducted research on food tracking systems for a variety of government and private industry clients.
Similarities between Canadian and Australian beef sectors include not only their interest in exports but also differences among beef-producing regions as well as divided authority for agriculture under each nation’s federal constitution. The lack of a clear, national traceability program in Canada is one reason Ontario lags in the use of data for commercial and livestock management decision-making, the report says.
Australian farmers have “embraced the challenge,” Fugard said. “They spoke up and wrote regulations that included their regional diversity but yet kept it national. Producers have accepted that the system works. It gives them credibility. Their consumers and the markets they buy from believe in it and it works,” he said.
Both Fugard and Gooch agree that a federal initiative last year to blend existing systems under a new agency, Trace Canada, could make a big difference to livestock traceability when it begins to roll out programs expected later this year. However, Gooch added there will be issues for individual provinces tied to the education of producers and the introduction of broader reporting mandates. Fugard figures recent high cattle prices and current interest in beef expansion set the stage to tackle existing gaps in tracking.
“We have a great opportunity to grow the herd in Ontario and in Canada. The world is looking for protein. What better time than right now to get all the elements in place?” he said. “The health of the industry is in good shape to do these things,” Fugard said. BF