INDEPTH: MAD COW
Tracking Canada's cattle
CBC News Online | Updated December 29, 2003
Canada has one of the most advanced cattle tracking systems in place in the world. Following outbreaks of so-called mad cow disease in the U.K. in the early 1990s, and foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, Canada's beef industry voluntarily established a non-profit agency dedicated to tracking animals in the event of future outbreaks.
The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency implemented a tagging program in January 2002. The program is aimed at allowing government and industry to track cattle from birth to death.
How it works
Canadian cattle identification program:
- Introduced: Jan. 2001
- Implemented: Jan. 2002
- Cost of tags: Varies, but can be had for $1 apiece.
- Information required: producer's name, address, telephone number and postal code.
- Fines for non-compliance: $500-$4,000
When an animal leaves its herd of origin, it is given an ear tag with a unique bar code and number. The tags are sold through service centres that track the animal to the point of slaughter and carcass inspection. The farmer or producer need only provide his or her name, address, telephone number and postal code. From that point the CCIA becomes responsible for tracking the animal, and only it may access the tag's information in the event of an outbreak of disease.
Beef farmers can be fined between $500 and $4,000 if one of their cows is found without a tag. But because tags tend to fall out occasionally, there is a five per cent margin of grace - meaning one out of 20 head of cattle.
According to the CCIA Web site, tagging was voluntarily introduced to help instil greater confidence in Canadian beef, more than half of which ends up on the export market. "If we as an industry (did) not put into place our own national identification system, we (would) lose market share and may find a system not of our choosing imposed upon us."
Tracking imported cattle
All imported cattle must be tagged within 30 days of arrival in Canada, and must be inspected (in the case of U.S.-based cattle) by the United States Department of Agriculture prior to crossing the border. It then becomes the responsibility of the purchaser or importer to obtain a tag for the animal and report it to the CCIA.
When a problem is found
The CCIA says that, in tracking infected or suspect cattle, it will not automatically "blame" the animal's farm of origin. The agency says it will track the animal from birth to death and "rely on scientific information and tests to confirm infection and toxin sources." While it doesn't elaborate on how exactly these tests are conducted, the agency says this method reduces the number of herds required to be tested by 90 per cent.