Pedigree registration valuable to purebred livestock sector

CORRECTION: The Animal Pedigree Act is administered by Agriculture Canada, not the Canadian Livestock Records Corp. As well, organizations that operate outside of the CLRC still operate under and adhere to the pedigree act.

Few government programs or services can claim to draw such high praise as the Animal Pedigree Act and the organization that administers it — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The act, which was brought in 105 years ago and last amended in 1988, consistently impresses the people whom it was designed to serve. That point is even more striking when one considers the diverse membership that makes up the corporation.

Organizations as different as the Canadian Goat Society and the Peruvian Horse Association of Australasia, for example, along with member organizations representing bison, cattle, dogs, donkeys, foxes, goats, horses, llamas, alpacas, sheep and hogs, have all seen enough value in the act to come together under its umbrella.

So it’s perplexing when the Conservative government says it might do away with the pedigree act, casting the future for the CLRC into doubt.

In 2013, the CLRC registered, identified or recorded 101,235 animals on behalf of 49 member associations and six contracted associations, and performed work for its General Stud and Herd Book and its Canadian Identification Project for non-purebred animals.

The value of the act, according to its members, lies in the credibility it brings in attracting international buyers for livestock genetics. The government stamp tells foreign buyers the system can be trusted, they say.

Larger livestock organizations, such as those representing Angus and Hereford breeders, have been able to build that kind of credibility without government over time, but it requires an economy of scale: enough members to ensure enough funds to maintain top level marketing and quality breeding programs.

As well, an organization such as the CLRC acting as an overarching group offers the kind of stability and dependability that a more disparate collection of livestock bodies operating alone could not. In some countries, two or more organizations have sprung up to represent a single breed, which adds confusion for buyers and for those charged with maintaining breeding standards because every organization might not adhere to the same rules.

Smaller organizations face other hurdles as well. They are often volunteer operated and would find it difficult to keep records to the same standards as a dedicated livestock records organization. Even if several groups were able to form a new umbrella organization and combine their efforts, it would still lack the government stamp of approval that many international and domestic buyers prefer.

The government’s reasons for wanting to change the existing structure remain vague.

Leading the charge is Agriculture Canada’s John Ross, director of the department’s animal industry division.

“There is a philosophy that perhaps the government of Canada is involved in too many things,” he said recently.

But change should be based on need, not philosophy. Perhaps there are some cost recovery methods that a review could explore. Ensuring good value for taxpayer money must be a priority for any good government.

However, this proposal appears to have little to do with money. Administering the act costs about $200,000 per year.

The purebred livestock sector generates an estimated $250 million per year in imports and exports, according to Genome Alberta. The mathematical argument to keeping the pedigree act and the CLRC is undeniable.

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