How does Canada's sheep traceability system measure up?


Livestock traceability requirements for sheep are about to get much more involved across Canada. While sheep producers have long been required to tag sheep ahead of movement, actual tracking of livestock movement has only needed to be recorded, not reported.

That is going to change very soon, and there is concern that the existing infrastructure isn’t up to snuff.

At some point this year, the federal government intends on publishing the proposed changes to sheep traceability requirements. While we don’t know the exact wording, it’s anticipated that farmers will not only need to tag animals ahead of movement, but any animals being moved will require an accompanying manifest, similar to what’s required in the hog industry.

Farmers and facilities will be required to report all “move-ins” of animals, including tag numbers, with their corresponding premise ID, to the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS). Through registered tag sales, premise ID, and move-in reports, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, which administers the Canadian Sheep Identification Program and manages CLTS, should be able to fully reconcile sheep movement across the country.

And that’s important, as the current traceability demands are rudimentary, at best. For example, a farmer fills out information when buying RFID sheep tags. That information is stored in the CLTS. Once the tags are in place and an animal is sold, a farmer must record that information (that a sheep left) but there’s no current requirement to report the information to CLTS. Should an issue with an animal occur down the road, the only information associated with that tag is where the sheep originally came from. Any other traceability would be dependent on farm records only.

Corlena Patterson, executive director of the Canadian Sheep Federation (CSF), explains that there are likely to be a few other changes coming, such as the timeframe in which to report “retired” tags (from death losses). The current requirement is 30 days for tag retirements, which has come as a surprise to many sheep farmers, though not a new requirement. This will likely be moved to a shorter timeframe in the new regulations.

Later this month, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) will release its evaluation of Canada’s veterinary infrastructure and services. Tracking and traceability as it relates to disease surveillance is one aspect of the evaluation, and it’s anticipated the OIE will identify performance issues with the current system.

That’s not really a surprise, however the impending regulations and report have created some friction within the industry on determining next steps forward.

At least one provincial organization claims there hasn’t been or won’t be a comprehensive comparative analysis of what’s available for data entry and database administration in anticipation of the new regulations. The CLTS will have to have the added reporting requirements added to it, when there may be more modern, complete options available, says the Ontario Sheep Farmers (OSF).

OSF vice-chair Marc Carere says that Quebec’s ATQ (Agri-Traçabilité Québec) system is already established and working well for several livestock types, but it’s unclear whether or not the system is even being considered moving forward.

“We need a clear, inclusive, and open discussion with all the information put forward about what our tracking options are as an industry,” Carere says. In the 14 years that traceability has been required in Canada, Carere says there’s been no real advancement in what’s collected and how the system works. OSF, for its part, wants ATQ at least considered as an already-capable traceability system.

From CSF’s perspective, Patterson says a recent webinar presented available options, including services and costs, generated through service proposals made to the CSF. A discussion forum was provided, questions asked and answered, she says. On the issue of technology, Paterson says CCIA is working on options that will work with the anticipated new reporting requirements, such as an app that will recognize photos of paperwork, and ensuring that existing software farmers’ are using will easily interface with the CLTS. Ultimately, it is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that determines who administers sheep traceability and what system is used, Patterson says.

Ontario Sheep Famers withdrew membership from CSF in 2016. Alberta quickly followed suit. Along with Quebec, which was removed from the organization years ago, the three provinces formed the National Sheep Network, beginning in 2017. The NSN does not have jurisdiction to administer the Canadian Sheep Identification Program, only the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency has that power.

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