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Copying the Canucks

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Mike

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Model animal ID program may come from Canada
Thursday, July 14, 2005


The misfortune of becoming the first North American country with a confirmed case of BSE may become a competitive advantage for Canada.

While USDA has proposed the implementation of a mandatory National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the U.S. by 2009, Canada initiated its own mandatory program this year. Chris Giffen, operations manager for the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, reported that a database was created to track Canada’s 15 million head cattle herd, at a cost of about $4 million.

With such a system in place, the Canadian cattle industry can track animal movements, reduce the chance of spreading diseases such as BSE, and create value for producers by verifying genetics, according to Giffen.

NAIS also may create value by increasing consumer confidence and by providing records so producers can reduce the incidence of double-medicating livestock — therefore reducing input costs.

“It was an initiative of the Canadian cattle industry,” Giffen said. “We needed the policy from the government and the backing of the industry to implement it and make it work.”

While tagging each animal initially cost Canadian producers between $3 and $9 per head, the investment apparently was worth it. Canadian beef consumption reportedly increased by 8 percent after the finding of BSE there as consumers actually rallied around the industry.

Giffen said the Canadian cattle industry promoted a NAIS as far back as the 1990s, prior to the discovery of BSE there. Now, much like in the U.S., more producers are willing to participate in the program to help ensure animal safety and instill confidence in consumers, he said.

“It’s difficult to get (producers) to buy into such a program when there’s no disease,” he said. “But post-BSE, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Giffen said that with an animal ID program in place, Canada is now progressing toward the use radio frequency ID tags which will be required by next year. With an upgraded system, producers also will be able to more easily adopt an age-verification system.

Age verification of cattle has become a key issue, particularly for export value, as BSE typically doesn’t occur in animals younger than 30 months of age.

“We’re going to get age verification attached to the ID system as markets such as Japan demand it,” said Erick Butters, vice chairman of Alberta Beef.

With Canada basically in the lead in terms of its adoption rate of an animal ID system, some members of IFB’s market study tour said they hope the U.S. can model its own system based on what the Canadians already have learned in implementing their system. — Daniel Grant
 

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