The federal government continues to move towards mandatory livestock traceability by 2011, but questions are being raised about the approach for tracking Canada's cattle herd.
"Everyone recognizes we have to go there," says Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. "As the U.S. pushes to the next level of BSE, we have to have something else to sell to our trading partners out there."
Ritz says countries such as Japan and South Korea are demanding greater traceability of livestock. He notes for cattle over 30 months of age, having a database of the exact age and locations of the cattle will make a huge difference.
He says producers are losing out because current dentition practices -- using the makeup of an animal’s set of teeth to determine its age -- aren't always right. Ritz says 10 per cent of the cows classified as over 30 months of age probably aren't, simply because the animal's teeth came in earlier than normal.
"It's a difference of 80,000 to 100,000 animals a year that end up classed as over 30 months that shouldn't be. So, a trace system and age verification will take them back in and make them more market available."
The federal government has put up $25 million dollars to help the cattle industry adapt and prepare for the new regulations that are coming in a year's time. Some funding has gone into the purchase and testing of radio frequency identification tag readers at auction marts across the country. The purpose is to see how well the livestock can be traced as they move through the auction mart and whether it can be done without slowing down business.
But Brad Wildeman, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, believes tracing cattle through the auction marts is not the right approach.
"If we believe that we're going to open up international markets and use it (traceability) to facilitate trade and increase our sales in some of these countries, then we need to change our focus," says Wildeman.
Instead, he says traceability needs to occur at the production sites.
"A Japanese consumer cares about where those animals were fed and cared for, not whether they got sold in Yorkton, Sask. or Kelvington, Sask.," Wildeman states.
The CCA is also worried about the reliability of the RFID tag reading technology.
"This technology today isn't fool proof. We know there are lost tags, we know there are tags that don't read," he says. "This idea that we're going to have mandatory traceability of 100 per cent of the cattle, 100 per cent of the time, simply isn't achievable with the technology we have today."
Wildeman notes Canada already has a world leading traceability system that the cattle industry has been implementing without a mandate from government. He says that will continue as the industry evolves and does what it needs to stay competitive.
"I think a little more common sense is needed," Wildeman says. "The fact some politicians have decided that mandatory traceability should happen in 2011, they need to realize that this industry is struggling with regulation, it's struggling with a lot of costs. How much more do they think they can throw on this business before we simply collapse?"