CFIA Livestock Tracking Proposal

Maybe I’m naive but I like it when government agencies seek out the opinions of Canadians on pending or potential legislation.  It makes me feel like, well, like a citizen…a citizen in good standing who has an obligation to participate in the making of law, not just someone, who, by accident of birth, happened to be born on Canadian soil.  For example, SARA (Species at Risk Registry) sends me email alerts about recovery programmes that they’ve put together for specific species, asking for my opinion and input.  I think one of the last issues I sent comments to SARA about concerned dolphins as by-catch of the fishing industry.  Their reports are long and detailed, and include commentaries from some of our most outstanding scientists and professionals, but I read them cover-to-cover, and also pick up great industry words like, “by-catch” (which basically describes the friend of the cute guy you just met who ends up tagging along whether invited or not).

The CFIA has just now made such an appeal. We have up to May 3rd of this year to send our comments and opinions to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture (currently under MP Gerry Ritz) which has asked stakeholders (that’s us) for input.  Before you wave me away, saying, ‘well, I’m not a farmer…it doesn’t concern me,’ let me ask

if you work (because if you work or are retired from work, you have a vested interest in the health of Canada’s economy which determines how much your salary or CPP is);

if you eat (because if you eat, you may want to help ensure that our food safety controls are among the best, not the worst, in the world);

and, finally, if you are a horse-owner, breeder, or guardian (which is the preferred word nowadays) you will want to know that changes are afoot (on the hoof?) which concern you.  I think that covers just about everybody (especially anyone who eats).  Here are some excerpts from the CFIA proposed framework for change:

Traceability is defined as the ability to follow an item or group of items – including animals, plants, food products and agricultural inputs such as feed, seed or ingredients – from one point in the supply chain to another. This paper will focus on the proposed elements of life-cycle traceability for livestock and poultry species. For the purposes of this paper, life-cycle traceability refers to the scope from birth of an animal on a Canadian farm or import into Canada, up until its death (on-farm or at slaughter) or export out of Canada.

 

So, without being reductive, I’d say this means tracking from birth any animal born here, imported here or exported from here until its death.  That’s a pretty tall order.  One of the realities that worries me is (and I have this on good authority) that many animals, especially equines, reside here on small farms, hobbyfarms, what-have-you, yet appear nowhere on government forms, sometimes because the owner regards them as pets or service animals and sees no need to declare their existence to the government or any other nosey parker.  This issues directly from the belief that we are already over-regulated; there is too much government interference in our lives as it is, and I’ll be damned if I’ll wear a bicycle helmet if I don’t want to…that sort of thinking.  (So much for John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethic:  “the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.”)

Yet there are righteous and exigent health reasons for the CFIA’s efforts here (not to mention the EU’s recent evolved and compassionate changes to food safety and animal transport which thwart our export sales there…but I digress):

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.

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 (CCIA)) 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.

Let’s make a checklist:

domestic food safety dangers (whether caused by natural disasters or our “animal resource base”) could be addressed more efficiently…YES.  (What about food safety dangers in countries we export to?)

traceability would be shared by industry stakeholders (like the Cdn Cattle Identification Agency)…NO.  The line reads “reporting traceability TO databases maintained by  industry-led administrators”.  Does this mean that industry, not government, would control how this new tracking system would work and who has access to it?

traceability records would be open to the public…NO.  The underscored line reads:  “…ensure the protection of private and confidential business information.”  Now why would that be part of this suggested framework?   Why would the food production industry be any more sensitive than any other industry to nosey parkers like, say, me, a horse advocate?  I’m just say’n…. 

traceability would lead to exports to existing markets and help gain new ones…YES.  Well, we knew that, given that the EU is cracking down, and PM Harper just sojourned in China (or was it Korea?), and Minister Baird just returned from Myanmar.  Let’s just overlook countries with appalling human rights’ records, and pretend Canada is a Fuller Brush salesman.

Finally, given that the US government has stated rather tersely that the food safety of any slaughter-bound horse accepted for import into Canada is Canada’s responsibility, how does this suggested framework for change address that issue…and it’s a big issue because everyone keeps telling me that horse slaughter is a multi-million dollar industry in Canada, and we apparently cannot function economically without that morally egregious revenue.

I ask these questions because, as any marketing expert knows, it’s easy to rig questionnaire results if the questions are framed in such a way that they already harbour the answers.  I want the CFIA to act as a non-partisan agency–not a bedfellow of the current government and current industry practice.  I want the CFIA to be a good citizen…because, no matter how hard I try to do my duty as a citizen, if they’re succumbing to pressures that none of us knows about, then all my and your efforts are just written in the wind.

But I refuse to end on that note.  We need the CFIA and we need to keep harping, hammering, speaking up and out.  Don’t forget that, like any other group, the CFIA is made up of people, Canadian citizens like you and me. They also work and eat here, and have a vested interest in the same things we do.  In this, the first phase of the proposed framework, we have up to May 3rd to speak our minds.  And what we have to say is just as important, if not moreso, than industry.  As my husband says, ‘if you don’t even bother to buy a lotto ticket, you most certainly will not win…so don’t complain later that you never win anything!’

Comments may be emailed to:  trace.consultation@inspection.gc.ca  and written comments to:

Peter Pauker
Manager – CFIA Traceability Group,
Domestic Policy Directorate
1400 Merivale Road,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0Y9

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Roxanne
    Mar 31, 2012

    How different we are here. A national animal identification system was much protested and rejected in the United States. Implementing an NAIS will be much more difficult for horses. Horses rarely stay on the farm like other animals because they are not “like” other animals, or perhaps better said, other food or dairy animals. Horses go out and off the farm, sometimes every weekend, sometimes daily for trail rides, to riding lessons, to clinics, to horse shows, to see the vet. Horses live a long time and often have several owners. Horses often live in urban environments, in boarding stables. How will that be monitored, Will it further push the cost of horse ownership away from the average person? How will it affect rescues? Local horse clubs? 4H? Pony Club? Wild horses?

    If they choose a microchip, will that mean another chip for breeds that already have microchip identification? What if it’s retinal scanning? Who is going to pay for all the equipment?

    This is a strategy for food animals, not companion animals. There is no such strategy for dogs and cats. Along with traceability, what is chosen now will formally define the status of the horse in our society and in our country. It was hashed over for years in the U.S. and rejected. I can’t believe how apathetic the horse community in Canada is to all this, but I’m sure they will complain when it happens.

    My vote is for choice and for a passport system like the U.K. has, that allows the owner to choose if their horse will ever go to slaughter or not, with tracking necessary only for those who choose that possible end. Let those who would permit their horses to go to slaughter pay the costs of supporting the coming requirements for that industry. Leave those of us who don’t choose that end alone.

    • Cynthia
      Mar 31, 2012

      Wow, Roxanne…wow. You cut to the chase of every issue more eloquently than anyone I know! Thank you. If you weren’t so busy, I’d ask you to write this blog….thank you again.

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