Feds invest $20m to trace livestock

Canadian farmers are skeptical that a $20-million federal investment announced Friday to track livestock from grocery stores around the world back to Canadian farms will help beleaguered producers.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Canadian farmers are skeptical that a $20-million federal investment announced Friday to track livestock from grocery stores around the world back to Canadian farms will help beleaguered producers.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz unveiled the Livestock Auction Traceability Initiative at the end of a meeting between federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Ritz said the move will help to restore global confidence in Canadian meat — confidence that recently took a hit due to swine flu concerns.

The traceability initiative will increase Canada’s competitiveness in the global livestock trade, Ritz said, especially in emerging Asian markets, where countries are calling on Canada to adopt it.

The initiative will help upgrade a system to keep track of individual animals as they mix with other herds in auction markets and community pastures.

Ritz said Canada used to be a leader in traceability capabilities but is now playing catch-up with countries like Argentina, Australia and the U.S.

“A strong traceability system makes it possible to track down problems quickly when they happen,” Ritz said. “It will allow individual Canadian producers to take credit for those premium steaks Canadian families pick up at the grocery store.”

But the National Farmers Union said the initiative will do nothing to increase farmers’ profits because it doesn’t include labelling regulations, yet will be more time-consuming and create more paperwork.

Union president Stewart Wells said that without proper labelling regulations, the program will not help consumers decide on Canadian products at the grocery store.

“As long as that production is still sitting on a store shelf beside something that might have come in from China . . . and consumers don’t know where the other production has come from, it’s just sitting there at a lower price because the information is denied to them. The traceability doesn’t offer that much potential.”

Friday’s meeting was dominated by concerns about Canada’s pork industry, devastated by fears of the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, and the beleaguered farmers in Prairie provinces, where a drought has dwindled this year’s harvests.

But spokesmen for the Canadian pork and beef industry said while the government pledged to have a fully operational traceability system in place by 2011, the ministers didn’t address more immediate problems the industry faces.

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