Fresh Food Forum: A matter of trust

Canada is the only country in North America with a mandatory national cattle identification program.

By Marty Carpenter

A survey among U.S. beef buyers indicate a high preference for beef from cattle which can be traced back to their herd of origin. The Beef Information Centre Trade Sur­vey, conducted in 2005, found that 73% of respondents from among the U.S. retail and foodservice trade preferred to purchase beef from cattle that were implanted with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag bearing a unique identification number to identify the herd from which they originated. These results are not surprising, given that the perception of food safety is more about trust than it is about science. And that trust must extend all the way back to the farm gate.

Canada’s National Cattle Identification System is the first of its type in North America. Administered by the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) and enforced by federal law, this program is designed primarily as an industry system, to protect animal health and food safety. But the ability to quickly trace an animal back to its original herd sends a strong message of assurance to all, which benefits everyone in the supply chain.

Quick identification on a national scale improves consumer confidence in beef and its food safety systems. Canada is the only country in North America that has a mandatory national cattle identification program. Initiated by beef producers, the program demonstrates not only their foresight, but a level of cooperation, integrity and pride which reflects in their high standards for Canadian beef.

All cattle in Canada must be ear-tagged with an RFID tag bearing a unique identification number by the time it leaves its herd if origin. Cattle can not be sold at an auction without a CCIA ear tag. The number stays with the animal until it passes carcass inspection.

Unique animal identification is a key component of recordkeeping required by the internationally recognized Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety systems. Canadian law makes it mandatory that all meat plants exporting beef to the U.S. use a HACCP system recognized by the CFIA. An age verification system is now in place so that all birth dates can be registered with the animal’s ID number.

Since its creation, the CCIA has issued more than 45 million tags and a CFIA audit indicated an almost 100% compliance among Canada’s cattle producers, a testament of Canada’s commitment to quality and safety.

The Canadian Cattle Identification program is an important aspect of Canada’s food safety system, but just one of the many programs in place to ensure quality, safety and profitability. Collectively, we call these our Canadian Beef Advantage. For more information on the Canadian Beef Advantage, visit www.canadianbeef.info.

Marty Carpenter is senior director, U.S. marketing for Canada’s Beef Information Centre, a division of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association representing Canada’s 83,000 beef producers.

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