Business & Policy
$20 Million for Livestock Traceability
By Sunny Freeman The Canadian Press
By Sunny Freeman The Canadian Press
July 13, 2009 – Canadian farmers are skeptical that a $20-million federal investment announced Friday to track livestock from grocery stores around the world back to Canadian farms will help beleaguered producers.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz unveiled the Livestock Auction Traceability Initiative at the end of a meeting between federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Ritz said the move will help to restore global confidence in Canadian meat — confidence that recently took a hit due to swine flu concerns.
The traceability initiative will increase Canada's competitiveness in the global livestock trade, Ritz said, especially in emerging Asian markets, where countries are calling on Canada to adopt such measures.
The initiative will help upgrade a system to keep track of individual animals as they mix with other herds in auction markets, community pastures and other facilities.
Ritz said Canada used to be a leader in traceability capabilities but is now playing catch-up with countries like Argentina, Australia and the U.S.
"A strong traceability system makes it possible to track down problems quickly when they happen," Ritz said. "It will allow individual Canadian producers to take credit for those premium steaks Canadian families pick up at the grocery store."
But the National Farmers Union said the initiative will do nothing to increase farmers' profits because it doesn't include labelling regulations, yet will be more time-consuming and create more paperwork.
Union president Stewart Wells said that without proper labelling regulations, the program will not help consumers decide on Canadian products at the grocery store.
"As long as that production is still sitting on a store shelf beside something that might have come in from China … and consumers don't know where the other production has come from, it's just sitting there at a lower price because the information is denied to them. The traceability doesn't offer that much potential."
Friday's meeting was dominated by concerns about Canada's pork industry, devastated by fears of the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, and the beleaguered farmers in Prairie provinces, where a drought has dwindled this year's harvests.
But spokesmen for the Canadian pork and beef industry said while the government pledged to have a fully operational traceability system in place by 2011, the ministers didn't address more immediate problems the industry faces.
The Canadian Pork Council is awaiting government response on its request for $800 million in loans to help struggling pork producers. The government announced Friday it is working with the pork council on moving toward a profitable industry.
Pork producers held a rally in Calgary on Friday to draw attention to the plight of pork producers after swine flu fears scared global consumers off Canadian pork.
Pork council president Jurgen Preugschas said while he supports traceability in theory, the $20 million announced Friday did not seem to address the hog producers and instead focused on cattle.
Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter said the traceability announcement does little to save the industry from the immediate issues it faces.
"If we don't deal with the income situation that hog and livestock farmers face, we're not going to have anything to trace."
Easter said the ministers should have seriously looked at the pork council's proposal, but ignored it in Friday's announcement.
"They've done nothing at this meeting," he said. "The hog industry in Canada is in the worst crisis it's ever faced. We're at the verge of losing the industry. More loans just won't cut it — it won't save the hog industry."
Brad Wildeman, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said he doubted the traceability system would be operational by 2011, and even if that's the case, it does nothing to help struggling farmers face more immediate issues.
Wildeman said they were hoping the government would announce a package Friday to address a severe drought in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but instead said the current program would suffice.
"We got some kind-sounding words and more promises and more regulation," he said. "Although this is a good long-term objective … we had some very immediate needs that didn't get addressed."