Jean L Clavelle
According to StatsCan as of January 1, 2014 there are over 12 million beef and dairy cattle, almost 900,000 sheep and lambs, and nearly 250,000 bison in Canada. Which is a lot of animals. Bet you didn’t know that each and every one of those animals can be identified by its own unique number (much like our own Social Insurance Number). The next question might be why…? Why would livestock need to have their own number?
Well it is simple really. With individual animal numbers we are able to easily track where any one animal came from in Canada. The ability to identify animals and their origins during an animal health or food safety emergency is paramount to the success of the response operation and the protection of human and animal health. Meaning it gives us the ability to prevent the spread of disease and further, to eradicate disease as it arises – to protect not only Canadian livestock but consumers and customers as well.
It was initiated in 1998 by beef and dairy industry leaders who recognized the importance of protecting our national herd and assuring consumer confidence which lead to the establishment of a national identification program. On January 1, 2001 the Government of Canada passed regulations for compulsory animal identification for both cattle and bison. The Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) followed suit with its own industry-led trace-back system introduced in 2004 applicable to all ovine animals in Canada.
So how does it work? These unique identification numbers are contained in small electronic tags attached to each animal’s ear called Radio Frequency IDentification tags (or RFID for short) at birth and then recorded in a nationwide database by the producer. RFID tags allow numbers to be read electronically and to ease the flow of information for everyone in the production chain including producers, auction marts, packing plants etc. The Canadian Cattle Identification Program says that “RFID technology will ensure that the Canadian cattle industry can continue to meet and exceed domestic and international requirements for animal health and food safety through an efficient trace back and age verification process.”
As a consumer I am tremendously happy to know that my food supply is safe and as someone involved in agriculture I’m proud of what our Canadian livestock industries have implemented. If you would like to know more details about how the Canadian livestock traceback programs work please visit CanadaID.ca; cansheep.ca; CanadianBison.ca