Livestock traceability systems in place but future uncertain

Nearly a year after the federal government quietly axed funding for developing a central database to support new livestock traceability regulations, the project’s main supplier has still not been paid and its former chair says he doesn’t know where the government plans to redirect the money.

Marie-Christine Talbot, president of Agri-Traçabilité Québec (ATQ), the non-profit organization that had been chosen to develop the TraceCanada database, said ATQ is owed more than $1 million for work it did on the system.

“It’s a lot for us.”

Terry Kremeniuk, TraceCanada’s former chair, said he expected the money the government clawed back would stay within the traceability file but did not know for sure.

“That’s somebody else’s ultimate decision.”

Uncertainties dominate TraceCanada’s final chapter, just as they have throughout the organization’s three-year existence.

Nevertheless, those involved say livestock groups’ ability to meet new traceability regulations won’t be jeopardized.

Other systems can keep track.

“The needs of the systems are at, or going to be at a level that will support the new regulatory infrastructure,” said Kremeniuk.

Launched in 2013 with $7.5 million in federal funding, TraceCanada aimed to establish a central, multi-species database to track livestock movements throughout the country.

It brought together the three groups that operate national livestock databases — the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA), PigTrace Canada and ATQ.

The Alberta-based CCIA tracks some beef and dairy cattle movements (as well as movements of some other species) throughout Canada with the exception of Quebec.

PigTrace tracks pig movements throughout the country. In Quebec, where traceability is already regulated for cattle, sheep and cervid species, producers must register their animals with ATQ’s system at birth for tracking or on entry into the province.

The effort was intended to support the flow of information for proposed Health of Animal Act regulations that will make it mandatory to identify, trace and record the movements of cattle, bison, sheep, goats and cervid species.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to roll out proposed regulations this fall for public comment.

Agriculture Canada and TraceCanada “mutually terminated” the federal funding agreement because it had been determined “TraceCanada no longer had the capacity to complete the project,” James Watson, a department spokesperson, said in an email.

Watson said the federal department plans to transfer the “traceability database assets” that TraceCanada brought to the sector “to help build the capacity of traceability databases that meet federal regularity requirements and allow industry to implement the proposed regulatory changes.”

The department also plans to recover about $2.7 million from the defunct organization and offer it to industry “for use towards other purposes (including traceability) under Growing Forward 2.”

Watson did not respond to a question about why ATQ had not yet been paid.

Kremeniuk said the effort failed because it became clear they could not structure the business in a way that could meet the needs of everyone.

Some ground was gained for the industry, he said: ideas were developed and systems worked on.

“Having all the livestock sectors get together was certainly beneficial in terms of sharing ideas and working on partnerships.”

Talbot said the project fell apart because the partners lacked common understanding.

The project was ambitious and also very technical, she said.

Because it was taking place at the same time that traceability regulation was being discussed, she wondered if people confused the vision for the regulation with the practicalities of database support.

“As we were the service provider with our solution, some people may have thought that (the regulation) would have been close to the Quebec requirement, which is not the case.”

Kremeniuk, who is also executive director of the Canadian Bison Association, said his industry will use the CCIA’s Canada Livestock Tracking System Database to comply with the regulation when it comes into effect.

The Alberta agency’s system is also expected to track sheep and goat movements throughout the country with the exception of Quebec.

In a prepared statement to The Western Producer, Anne Brunet-Burgess, CCIA general manager, said her agency “is moving forward with plans to prepare the Canadian Livestock Tracking System database to host multiple species in need of livestock traceability services.”

Jeff Clark, PigTrace Canada program manager, said losing TraceCanada wouldn’t affect the establishment of a national livestock traceability program.

But lack of a centralized system could create problems for the program’s implementation, such as the potential for confusion to occur in areas where the existing traceability systems overlap, he said.

For example, he said an agency inspector responding to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that affects cattle and pigs on the Ontario-Quebec border now must go to three systems to obtain location information: “ATQ for Quebec cattle stuff; PigTrace for the pig stuff, and CCIA for the cattle stuff outside of Quebec. So it’s not the most efficient thing in the world.”

Plan B, said Talbot and Clark, has involved the agency building a traceability national information portal to pull information from the three industry databases.

PigTrace is linked to the system and daily synchronizes its data with the agency’s system.

Clark said the agency is not ready yet to incorporate all of the information PigTrace produces.

Once all systems are up and running, Clark would like to see a disease simulation take place to ensure the portal works.

Mike McMorris, general manager of Ontario-based BIO, noted that Canada has spent more than 15 years on the issue of livestock traceability and at least $1 billion.

“It’s unfortunately been a bit of a battle.It seems to have kind of divided into them and us,” he said.

One of the biggest issues is traceability means different things to different people, he said.

BIO offers producers a farm management database tracking system. When the traceability regulation comes into effect, farmers can use such a system to track a range of individualized information, such as health details, McMorris said.

At the same time, the system will automatically stream the regulated animal movement information to the appropriate national tracking database.

For many farmers, the new rules will mean some changes to tracking practices, he said. And how much compliance will cost farmers is not yet known.

“There are lots of different scenarios; it’s not going to be zero,” McMorris said.

“There’s at least going to be time involved. Even if they currently have a wand reader and they’re already putting tags in, there will still be time involved to use a system and go to the CCIA website and record a movement.”

Agri-Traçabilité Québec  has discussed the money it is owed with TraceCanada and Agriculture Canada representatives. Taking legal action remains on the table.

“We can look at different options,” said Talbot.

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