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Manitoba moves toward full food traceability

(Revised) — Manitoba’s pilot traceability program for the province’s food, food factories and farms has picked up funding to move toward a full launch.

Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk announced Wednesday at Keystone Agricultural Producers’ (KAP) annual meeting in Winnipeg that the province has pledged over $400,000 in equipment and staffing costs to develop and launch an agri-food traceability system that can trace food products from the farm gate through to the consumer.

The funding will cover technical equipment, database development and staffing for an agri-food premises identification system, the province said.

The premises ID system, which was developed and tested in a pilot project with IBM using TraceTracker software from Norway, would initially be used to locate and register all farms and other places where animals are raised, kept or sold.

Registration will begin with the livestock sector, but will be expanded to include “all farms that grow food, processing plants and eventually all places where food is kept,” the province said.

“Manitoba’s traceability and food-safety system would ensure that all food processing done in this province is subject to a monitoring program,” Wowchuk said in a release Wednesday.

“This registration database will provide valuable information on the location and identification of foods produced or processed in Manitoba, enabling us to quickly track the origin of foods, thus ensuring the ongoing safety and health of Manitobans,” she said.

“A comprehensive traceability system will support a timely and effective provincial response to any food-safety issue or animal health emergency.”

Elevated status

As well, she said, such traceback capabilities will “elevate the status of foods produced here for consumers and customers nationally and internationally, providing economic benefits for the province.”

Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief provincial veterinarian, recently told the Manitoba Co-operator there are three major reasons to have a Manitoba agri-food traceability system.

First, he said in the paper’s Jan. 15 issue, is to help authorities develop plans to protect human and animal health in cases of disease outbreaks or food safety incidents and, second, to respond effectively when they occur.

“The third reason for traceability is maintaining attributes for products,” Lees told the Co-operator’s Daniel Winters. “If you have grass-fed beef, how do you trace that all the way through the system so that the consumer is assured that it is really grass fed?”

A province such as Manitoba that relies heavily on export markets for its current levels of production of beef and hogs may find traceability key to the livestock sector’s survival over the longer term, he said.

“If we’re going to get into the high-end markets, we’re going to have to start developing very sophisticated systems… If we look ahead, say, five years, these are the types of things that will allow us to move ahead.”

Modern food production and distribution makes traditional one-on-one trust relationships between buyers and sellers unwieldy, he said, and computerized interaction might be an effective substitute.

“You can’t expect everyone in Winnipeg to know a farmer to deal with,” Lees said in the Co-operator. “Traceability is not meant to replace the direct client-customer relationship, but to take some of those qualities to a bigger level so that it can work in the modern distribution channel.”

Wowchuk noted Wednesday that producer and processor organizations have already developed animal and product identification systems, and said Manitoba will work with other provinces and Ottawa to track movements of animals, other commodities and food products across Canada.

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