With a Trace
By Treena Hein
Traceability in the poultry sector is evolving
By Treena Hein
Traceability in the egg and poultry industry is evolving and growing stronger in Canada, and 2015 marks some news highlights on this front.
At the national level, Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) is now in the implementation phase of a program that will streamline traceability across the country. The ‘National Quality Code’ program will require participants to meet certain requirements in order to use the National Quality Code (NQC) mark on their cartons. The entire supply chain may be involved in the program, and each involved party must meet the criteria.
Alison Evans says the NQC program is intended to be an umbrella quality program for existing on-farm programs such as the ‘Animal Care Program’ and the ‘Start Clean Stay Clean’ food safety program. It may also expand to encompass future programs – for example, those relating to the environment. “[With this program], we want to increase consumers’ knowledge of food safety and animal care programs that our farmers follow and increase their already high confidence levels in the freshness and quality of locally-produced eggs found in stores across the country,” explains the EFC Director of Communications and Public Affairs. “Retailers can be assured that the eggs they are buying are all meeting standards that they and their customers can trust.” At this stage, funding has been secured and implementation is getting underway. Working groups are being finalized, and Evans says once that’s complete, program requirements and criteria will be finalized as well. Tracking and data capture aspects will also be sorted out soon, and pilot programs will follow in select locations across the country.
Besides the NQC program, traceability in the Canadian egg industry is evolving in other ways. In 2013, Quebec led the country with legislation mandating that all eggs must be stamped with a code. Benjamin Gagnon, communication officer at the Fédération des Producteurs d’oeufs du Québec, says having stamped eggs provides the best traceability possibility. That is, if there is a recall, the stamping will make it even faster, and it provides the added benefit that the public can be notified down to the egg level (as to what must not be eaten). The other reason for the stamps, he says, was to make it possible for the public to visit the Federation’s website to find out information on the farm that their eggs come from. Site visitors have only to input the code. Gagnon says about 500 people a day visit the Federation’s website, but he is not sure how many people input a stamp in a given week or month.
In other areas of Canada, the decision of stamping eggs is up to the grader. Margo Ladouceur, manager of egg sectors at the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, is not sure what percentage of eggs in Canada now feature stamps, or how that number is expected to grow over the next five to ten years.
Ferme Avicole Laviolette in St. Isidore became the first grader in Ontario to stamp eggs, in 2012. (Owner Marcel Laviolette Jr. is also an egg farmer, and eggs from his 33 000 layers make up two thirds of the volume at his grading station.) The string of numbers and letters on each egg denote the batch date, date of packaging and producer. For being the first in his province to employ egg codes, Laviolette was recognized with a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Laviolette made the move in 2012 knowing it would give his customers – over 250 wholesalers, grocery stores and restaurants in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec – added peace of mind in terms of food safety and traceability. It would also be a good way for his eggs to stand out from those of bigger graders that didn’t yet code their eggs, making them preferable and hopefully increasing his sales. Laviolette says the biggest challenge of implementing the system was integrating the electronics, and it took about a year to get good results. He says the stamping machine does require care, but that the installation and ongoing operation of the system is worth it. “Customers want the stamped eggs,” he says.
Robert Laplante, owner of Laplante Poultry Farms Ltd. in Sarsfield, also received a 2014 Premier’s Award for his traceability efforts, this time with poultry. Laplante has 80 000 broilers, crops 1400 acres, has an on-farm feed mill and also owns a processing plant in nearby Monkland in Eastern Ontario. He recently went from a paper-based tracking system to a completely automated traceability and product handling system, which eliminates data input errors of all kinds and provides a much shorter product recall time, if a recall is ever ordered. Bar codes are used throughout to track product, and things like product weights are automatically registered in the system upon weighing, with no data input needed. Laplante says the system has decreased operational costs by 10 per cent and labour costs by 8 per cent.
The automation will hopefully also mean that Laplante’s processing plant, the only one between Toronto and Montreal, can expand. It was a one-person operation when he bought it and while Laplante has expanded its capacity to 160 000 kg per quota period, there is 2.5 million kg per quota period being produced in Eastern Ontario. There is also hopefully the opportunity to process chicken from western Quebec as well. Laplante Poultry has an open appeal in front of the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal in an attempt to access more processing capacity in Eastern Ontario, and the decision should be made by the end of this year.
In terms of how many other chicken farmers or farmer/processors across Canada have gone to barcode-based traceability systems, Chicken Farmers of Canada does not have that information, and recommended checking in with Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO), as Ontario is one of the leading provinces with regard to traceability. While CFO acknowledges that Laplante is a leader in terms of the barcode system he uses, the association has other exciting traceability news to share.
The ‘CFO Connects:Trace’ program is rolling out this year, which ensures all information related to flock production and marketing is submitted digitally by producers. “This is a big step forward, as the information will be sent through a centralized system prior to the movement of chickens,” notes CFO Manager of Quality and Risk Management Cathy Aker. “The traditional production and transportation paperflow has always been received by CFO from 10 to 14 days after shipments, while using the new integrated ‘CFO Connects’ platform will mean almost real-time shipment tracking, which is much more ideal for managing food safety or disease emergencies.” The program will be fully integrated with farmers and processors, and will be completely established by the end of 2015.