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The dirty business of shipping untagged cattle


I had a long and sometimes emotional conversation yesterday
with Saskatchewan rancher Ken Habermehl. He recently was cleared of any wrong
doing in a hearing regarding the shipment of cattle to a community pasture in
May 2009, where it was found upon arrival that seven animals did not have CFIA
approved RFID ear tags. (Read more about it in the October 18, 2010 issue of

Habermehl maintains he checked all 200-plus head at his farm
south of Outlook before about 10 trailer loads of animals were hauled 67 kms to
pasture. And when the CFIA inspector – the Button Cop – found seven animals
with no tags Habermehl did everything possible to re-tag those animals. He
still ended up with a charge of failing to tag cattle and a potential $500

Canadian Cattle RFID Ear Tag[3].jpg

It took nearly a year and a half of legwork that culminated
in a one-day hearing in June, and then three more months of waiting for a
ruling by the tribunal in late September that quashed the charge and fine.

Habermehl and his witnesses, and apparently many other beef

producers, maintain the approved RFID tags don’t stay in – they have a poor
retention rate — and livestock owners who do their best to make sure these
permanent tags are properly installed in the ear, shouldn’t be penalized if
they fall out either through normal animal activity, or in the congestion of

The whole point of this national cattle identification
system, as I understand it, is to make it possible to trace cattle through the
beef production system so if we do have another Mad Cow (or something else)
that threatens world health and security, it can be tracked back to the farm or
origin so the remainder of the plagued animals can be quarantined or destroyed.
And as we have learned with all the crap that has happened since May 2003, that
is a good thing.

Now, life is full of shysters and if there was some
evidence the Ken Habermehls or the Cargills or the XL Meats of the world

are working to screw the system by shipping illicit untagged cattle or meat
either to make a point, or because they are too lazy to do a proper job, then
yes, throw the book at them.

At the same time, if you have a hard working stiff who is
doing his best and the technology he is “required” to use fails him, why should
his hide be nailed to the wall? In this case there were seven head in a holding
pen found with no tags, and Habermehl apparently used all his resources to
correct the problem as quickly as possible. Even the tribunal report used the
term “no harm, no foul”. It is not like we were facing the imminent risk that
if these seven cows hadn’t been tagged, that every consumer of Canadian meat in
Japan would, three weeks from now, go crazy and croak.

And I can’t even criticize the Button Cop. Probably, just
doing his job. There was no point in him putting his ass on the line for an
agitated, yet-compliant, rancher, because ultimately turning a blind eye could
have landed him unemployed and Habermehl still facing charges. I learned a long
time ago, the law distinguishes between what is legal and illegal, it doesn’t
determine between right and wrong. But, there is always hope that in the broad
administration of justice, that lawmakers will one day find the perfect clause
to allow rational thinking people to apply common sense without penalty.

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in
Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]




About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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