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On-farm food safety and traceability has been at the forefront of the livestock industry’s risk management radar since the Canadian BSE outbreak in 2003.  Since then, industry and government have been working together to develop a national traceability system.

“Enough time has passed that people forget that the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association initiated traceability for cattle and that much of the traceability system is already in place for cattle,” explains Rob McNabb, general manager of operations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) at Calgary, Alberta. “The start of that traceability process was the initiation of individual animal identification.”

In 2006, federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Agriculture committed to phase in the National Agriculture and Food Traceability System, and mandated the Industry-Government Advisory Committee on traceability to provide a forum for cooperation and coordination among governments and industry. In the summer of 2009, Ministers committed to move forward on a comprehensive, mandatory national traceability system for livestock and poultry, which is critical for managing animal health and food safety issues, as well as expanding market access and driving efficiencies.

To deliver on this commitment, the federal government proposes to develop a national legislative framework for traceability of animals. The proposal will strengthen Canada’s existing traceability framework under the Health of Animals Act, which already includes authorities for animal identification requirements and elements of movement reporting.

The proposed framework will enhance Canada’s ability to:


  • Effectively manage animal health and related human health issues;
  • Rapidly respond to disease outbreaks and natural disasters (e.g. floods, ice storms) affecting the Canadian agricultural resource base; and
  • Efficiently respond to food safety issues that may originate from the animal resource base.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is taking feedback on the proposed framework until May 3, 2012. Detailed requirements and obligations for stakeholders will be developed, in the future, through a separate consultation process as regulatory proposals are prepared under this framework. These regulations will be implemented for a species of animals (or multiple species), in a phased-in manner based on industry readiness and extensive consultations with affected stakeholders.

Depending on the sector to be regulated, the framework would require reporting of timely, accurate and relevant traceability information to databases maintained by industry-led administrators (e.g. Canadian Cattle Identification Agency) and would have strong provisions to ensure the protection of private and confidential business information. It would also allow for the sharing of traceability information among authorized stakeholders for intended uses. Beyond being a tool to manage animal and related human health and food safety issues, traceability could provide tangible benefits to industry through reduced economic impacts of animal health emergencies, and could play a role to help maintain existing domestic and international markets, and gain new ones.

  • Key elements of the proposed traceability framework include:
  • Animal identification
  • Location identification
  • Movement and other event reporting
  • Authorized uses and sharing of information
  • Compliance
  • Reporting and record keeping

McNabb says there are still challenges ahead in the implementation of a national traceability system.  Premise identification is a key one, with some provinces lagging behind in agreeing to have premise identification as part of a traceability framework – citing privacy issues as a reason.

Another challenge is movement reporting, where an animal is traced from birth to death.  McNabb says that as an animal moves through an auction mart, for example, technology has to be implemented to easily and cost-effectively capture the animal information so that the national database can be automatically updated.

Cost-sharing is another concern, as producers do not want to share the entire burden of traceability, because the benefits can be realized by both society and industry.

Currently, McNabb says the cattle industry, with its animal identification administered through the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, has much of the traceability foundation built.  “It would take a little longer to trace an animal back through the system without full implementation of the framework, but currently much of the work in tracing an animal is already done because we already have animal identification.”