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Thread: Traceability and the need for RFID tags for the small scale producer

  1. #1
    Dennis Lapierre
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    Traceability and the need for RFID tags for the small scale producer

    The Shuswap Sheep Breeders Ass'n has raised this concern. It was also a matter of a side discussion in a traceability committee meeting that took place earlier this week in Halifax at a Canadian Federation of Agriculture meeting.

    The concern is this: is there really a need to follow the RFID tagging routine when one is taking a lamb directly to a local abbatoir for processing and then returning it home?

    In Canada, the rule that is emerging is that any animal that leaves the farm of origin needs to be tagged. That makes perfect sense when the animal is essentially going to change hands: go to auction, get fed into the supply-chain, be sold as a live animal to another private buyer, but not otherwise. Interestingly, it would appear that this is not an original thought. In the US and Austrailia (from the limited documentation I have read), the tagging rule applies to when the animal changes hands. What this means is that elsewhere, the tagging requirement is less restrictive as far as meeting the needs of the small producer is concerned.

    Here's the argument: There is indeed a need for traceability; a need to be able to trace back to the farm of origin any animal. It is now an accepted health requirement that even for some places is leading to farm registration practices. Tagging is an effective way to do that, but it is not the only way. When I book a lamb for slaughter with the local abbatoir, I take the lamb to the abbatoir and once it is processed, I retrieve it and bring it home. It hasn't changed hands. There can be no confusion about being able to trace the event. The abbatoir has a record of having done the work. I have personally delivered and retrieved it.

    I'm not sure how a RFID tag would play any role in this case, so why is it needed in a case like this? It seems to be an unnecessary step and, more importantly, an unnecessary additional cost when the cost of processing for lamb is already very high.

    When I market lamb directly from the farmgate, meaning I take several lambs in for processing and personally retrieve them and sell them to my customers there is no additional benefit to tagging the sheep. Only if the lamb processed was separately boxed and each box was individually identified would that make a difference, but small abbatoirs don't do that and besides, I don't believe there is any onus on me to identify which part of the lamb came from which animal were I to sell legs to one customer and shoulders to another.

    It would appear that to the small producer there is little need for having to take on the additional expense of tagging animals unless the animal is changing hands. I would like the rules for tagging reconsidered such that tagging becomes a requirement where the live animal is changing hands.

    I would be interested in the comments of others on this concern.

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    At the Saturna field day, Anita O'Brien, a sheep specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and a CSF Traceability consultant, told us that the traceability refers primarily to animal health and the tracing of foreign animal diseases or highly infectious disease outbreaks. The producer will need to record movements of stock outside a 10 km radius, and the stock will need to be traced from auction marts, to private sales, to slaughter. In the case of an outbreak the animal could be traced back quicker, and a minimal number of animals will need to be destroyed. That's the logic of it. She said beaurocrats go on too much about food safety. She said Canada's meat is very safe.

  3. #3
    Dennis Lapierre
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    This logic would beneficial to those cattle producers who move their stock to different pastures around where they live. Their understanding now is that to move stock from essentially one property to another just to accommodate grazing needs requires tagging.

  4. #4

    A Day at the Local Abattoir:

    Live animal with tag enters kill box.
    Animal is killed.
    Dead animal parts company with tagged head. Carcase goes to cooler, head/tag goes to dumpster.
    Carcase with no tag gets cut up, packaged and frozen.
    Tag numbers are written down in a book.

    I can understand that using a RFID reader as the live animals approach kill box can save time and prevent handling of dead heads, but where's the traceablity part? What am I missing here?

    Kathy

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    Some processors, such as Sunterra meats, have installed RFID readers that read the tags and record the weight, grade associated with the tag. The tag is cut out, put in a plastic bag, and attached to the carcass. Barcodes are printed that correspond to the tag, and the coded labels are placed on the meat as it is packaged. I saw this system at Sunterra meats last month during a tour of their facilities (during the CSF AGM) That is how the RFID helps in tracing the meat to the consumer.

    The other part of traceability is in animal movements. In a flock, animals might be moved to different parcels for grazing. Some animals go to auctions, some are sold privately, etc. In the future animal movements will be required to be recorded and these movements reported at a central database. That way, in the case of a disease outbreak, the animal can be traced back through its movement records, any other animals that have comingled identified, and a more targetted identification of animals to be quarantined done. It is hoped that this will speed up the knowledge of an animal's history so that fewer animals will be needlessly quarantined or destroyed in the current broad umbrella shotgun approach. The RFID tags are hoped to aid in quickly collecting tag data, trasmitting data to the database, and reducing the time manually reading tags and keeping paper records only.

    In the UK central points, like auction marts and slaughter plants, will have readers so that producers can have tags electronically read and don't need to own a reader. Some communities are also thinking of applying for traceability funds to buy community readers for this purpose.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kathy View Post
    A Day at the Local Abattoir:

    I can understand that using a RFID reader as the live animals approach kill box can save time and prevent handling of dead heads, but where's the traceablity part? What am I missing here?

    Kathy
    I agree Kathy, it seems to be left up to the abattoir to do a good job of traceability, which doesn't change just because of an ear tag. My lambs travel ten minutes from the farm to a local abattoir and I tag them the day or so before when I weigh them, the tag spends no more than 48 hours in their ear, and you're point exatly, as soon as the head leaves the lamb... it's up to the abattoir to identify that carcass. I'm sure that on a busy day a few heads might "roll" in the wrong direction and while skinning I'm sure there's no tag tied to it's toes...

    I feel bad enough stressing my lambs and wasting a metal ear tag,(I'm still using them as long as I can) but will hurt even more with the more expensive RFID ones. I am confident that my processor does a conciencous job of keeping track, but it's not because of the tag. It seems to me that if the abattoir has a good relationship with the customers and contact information, the lambs could be traced pretty easily back to the flock of origin without an ear tag.

    Perhaps they should design a carcass tag that's easy to apply post kill instead of fiddling with plastic bags and parts of ears...

    My final thought on this is that if we are forced to tag our lambs, then a smaller tag that could be used in young lambs would be nice as it would double as positive ID for ewe-lamb records. I don't ID my lambs early on as I don't want to put more hardware on them than necessary.

    Janice

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