Ontario’s beef industry eyes Australian-style traceability system

Aug 12, 2014

Case study provides insight into the opportunities of implementing a lifetime beef traceability system in Ontario

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

Ontario can learn from the success of Australia’s one-of-a-kind, chain-length traceability system for beef cattle, as suggested in a new case study released today [August 12], published by Value Chain Management International (VCMI) in partnership with Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO).

The study called “Learning from Australia’s Traceability and Meat Standards Program,” examines the viability of implementing an Australian-style traceability model for the beef sector in Ontario. Australia’s traceability program is called the National Livestock Information System (NLIS). The system started in 2002 and became fully operational by 2006.

Australia is recognized as having one of the most effective traceability systems for livestock production in the world. An approach which Martin Gooch PhD, from VCMI, says “enables business and the wider industry to capture market opportunities.”

But before diving into the opportunities for the Ontario beef industry, the report defines what “chain-length” traceability means. It requires three pillars: movement reporting, premises ID and animal ID. Making a clear distinction that “animal ID enables traceability to occur, but it is not traceability,” noting that Canada’s current traceability system does not function in a chain-length capacity.   

In order to conduct the case study, a delegation of industry leaders from Ontario traveled to Australia to see the system work first-hand. The group consisted of representatives from the value chain, including senior government officials, beef producers, processors, and retailers.  

The trip was especially useful, as Australia’s beef industry is similar to that of Ontario. Particularly, the regional differences between Eastern and Western Canada, namely Ontario and Alberta. “Similar cultural and political differences exist between the beef industries of Ontario and Alberta as exist between Victoria and Queensland,” the report explained.

Gooch described this relationship in more detail, noting that the cultural perspective would be the Alberta stereotype of “I am not going to do traceability, it’s just an expense, leave me alone government,” approach. While Ontario’s beef producers tend to have less of a “leave me alone” cultural independence attitude.

Additionally, there is the size and scale aspect. The west is home to the largest portion of the beef cattle herd in Canada. Therefore, Alberta beef production is more intense and larger than in Ontario. Gooch points out that “the dichotomy of size and culture attitude in Alberta versus Ontario literally mirrors the differences that exist in Australia.”

The success of the Australian model comes down the approach. Gooch says that if Canada or an individual province like Ontario would like to choose and pursue a similar system to Australia that government needs to take a different approach than what it has done in the past. “What we’ve done traditionally is invest in technology without having an overall strategy,” he said. He argues, come up with a strategy and then decide what technology is best suited for the implementation. Australia “established a strategy before they started investing in technology.”

Australia’s beef traceability system started in 2002 and become fully operational by 2006. And since that time it has “already returned well in excess of AUD$200 million to the industry,” he concludes. While Gooch was unable to put a price tag on implementing a similar traceability system in Ontario, he was able to estimate what it would cost at a national level. The administrative and operational costs of a traceability system of this magnitude would cost approximately $5 million a year to work in Canada.  

In an emailed statement supplied by LeaAnne Wuermli, Communications Manager for BFO, she says “the trip to Australia was an investigative mission to understand their traceability governance,” adding that the knowledge gained from the mission has provided BFO with a greater understand on “the challenges and opportunities in developing and implementing a system that meets the needs of businesses situated along the beef supply chain.”

The full report can be read online on VCMI’s website.