CCA, Sask. minister question traceability cost, timing

A pledge by most of Canada’s ag ministers last week for a mandatory, nationwide livestock traceability system by 2011 has left too much unanswered for Canada’s cattle producers or the Saskatchewan government to support.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association on Monday rolled out a statement of disappointment, saying not much else other than the 2011 deadline for a tracking system seems to have come out the federal/provincial agriculture ministers’ meeting last week at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

The ministers on Friday jointly described such a system as “critical for managing animal health and food safety issues, as well as expanding market access and driving efficiencies.”

However, “there are significant obstacles to overcome before we implement a verifiable, efficient and cost-effective national program for traceability,” CCA president Brad Wildeman said in a release.

“If the governments truly want to assist industry, they should focus on helping us overcome these barriers rather than heaping more regulations on our industry.”

Wildeman, who’s also president of cattle feeding and ethanol production company Pound-Maker Agevntures at Lanigan, Sask., said the ministers’ announcement “disregards the principles established by producers for tracing cattle.”

Canada’s beef and cattle industry was the first to adopt national animal identification and to develop a “comprehensive” national traceability system, the CCA said, but added that it “insists that the system be designed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

“Also important to keep in mind is that the requirements should not exceed the current technological capabilities,” Wildeman warned. “It is difficult to see how the technology we envision as being needed will emerge in the two years agreed to at the ministerial meeting.”

“Pot of gold”

Absent from last week’s commitment to a mandatory traceability system was the Saskatchewan government, represented at the Ontario meeting by its agriculture minister, Bob Bjornerud.

In an interview Monday, Bjornerud said he would prefer to see such an initiative be industry-led, rather than imposed on producers. Like Wildeman, he also noted that the other ministers are asking for a mandatory system to be in place “only a little over a year” from now.

“I don’t exactly see where all the panic is,” Bjornerud said, explaining why he opted to dissent from the portion of Friday’s joint statement by the ag ministers dealing with traceability.

Furthermore, he said, he doesn’t want to see hard-pressed Prairie cow/calf producers end up stuck with the tab for such a system, having to pay to implement mandatory traceability on top of premises identification, age verification and other recent initiatives.

Bjornerud noted that other provinces’ ag ministers shared similar concerns about who would foot the bill for such a system, but the majority went along with the views of Alberta and Quebec — both of which are already developing traceability systems of their own — and with the views of their federal counterpart, Gerry Ritz.

In particular, Bjornerud said, the Alberta government seems to feel that there will be “a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” with such a system in place, but he remains to be convinced.

“Borders shut so quickly around the world, more for politics than for food safety,” he said.

Wildeman agreed in Monday’s release, saying “Canada’s beef and cattle industry is already burdened with many additional costly regulations due to BSE and we have not experienced positive return for doing so.

“There may be a time when the industry would collectively agree to mandatory measures,” he said, “but it sure isn’t now.”

The CCA also said it was disappointed to see no firm commitment by the ag ministers on improving disaster programming, nor any “measurable improvement” planned for the suite of federal/provincial business risk management (BRM) programs.

“We absolutely appreciate the government’s recognition that the BRM programs are not working and volunteering to review them,” Wildeman said. “However, we had hoped that by now they would’ve adopted some of the recommendations put forth by the CCA in the fall of 2007.”

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