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How Robust Livestock Tracking Leads to Increased Profitability

26 August 2014

While a significant industry, Canada's cattle sector lacks the traceability seen in its pork supply chain. The worry, according to an industry figurehead, is that huge opportunities are being missed.

"For an industry known for its independence and rugged individualism, maybe it’s time to start acting more like sheep."

Put bluntly, cattle traceability must play catch-up with the hog and sheep sectors. 

Livestock producers all over the world understand the positive impact tracking and sharing animal data can have on their bottom lines, writes Ted Power, President at ViewTrak Technologies, a tracking and trading software supporting over 50 million head of livestock annually. 

Mr Power wants to see cattle traceability progress to where pork is, with the national PigTrace system, and where lamb soon will be. 

A Necessity, Not a Luxury

Farmers know due to recent “food scares,” consumers want to know that the food they are going to feed their families is safe. They want to know where it comes from, how it was raised, and what chemicals or drugs were used to create it.

But the Canadian cattle industry still has a lot of work to do to respond to these changing consumer demands.

Even though the use of RFID ear tags to identify cattle is mandatory, questions remain about their effectiveness and level of compliance.

Beyond tagging, there is a lot more the industry can do to address consumer needs. For one, the sector could establish a more integrated information exchange system that provides accurate and reliable data though the supply chain. For another, they could work more effectively to create an industry-led solution to this issue before regulators impose one from outside.

To increase per-head profit, improve the world perception of the quality of Canadian beef and expand domestic and international markets, the movement toward industry-wide traceability must be taken seriously. We have all heard it many times before. We live in a global market and we must do what the world market demands.

Pork and Lamb

"We live in a global market and we must do what the world market demands."

But, from our perspective, the Canadian cattle industry lags behind other sectors, and, as a result, it’s failing to take advantage of opportunities to grow by giving worldwide consumers what they want: reliable information about the history of their beef.

This is why the beef industry must learn something from Canada’s pork and lamb producers.
Canada’s pork industry is one of the few in the world to offer a nation-wide traceability system.

Through their recently unveiled PigTrace, the pork industry has successfully demonstrated that they can quickly and effectively deal with food safety emergencies—improving response times and reducing market disruptions and economic impact.

Pork producers understand that traceability offers them a competitive advantage as consumers both domestically and globally gain more confidence in the quality of verifiable pork products.

Equally important, PigTrace helps producers safeguard their businesses and bottom lines during a market disruption caused by food safety or animal health issues.

Similarly, The Canadian Lamb Producers Cooperative is using technology to their advantage and are in the final stages of completing an electronic grading system to standardize the grading of lamb which will not only improve meat quality but will enable farmers to produce lambs with characteristics that retailers, packers, and consumers are looking for.

In addition, they are also creating a system that creates true traceability of meat from the farm, through processing, to the retailer, and right to the consumers’ plate.

The system will allow the lamb industry to grow, gaining a stronger foothold in the vast and growing markets of Asia, America, and Europe.

Their new electronic grading system provides the Cooperative with improved information about flock genetics, better feed-management practices and how to reduce operating costs, positively impacting profitability. Most of all, the grading system is increasing farm cash receipts, which is every farmer and ranchers goal.

A Distant Dream

That’s great news for the lamb and pork folks, but what does it mean for cattlemen?

Despite the size and significance of the cattle industry, true traceability throughout the supply chain is still a distant dream. Without it, the industry is missing out on an enormous opportunity for growth that the pork industry has already seized and the lamb producers will be unveiling soon.

For Canadian cattle, the multi-billion dollar world export market will remain largely beyond reach without consistent and reliable traceability. It’s only a short matter of time before all retailers demand full history of care from producers through to processors and packers before they will sell your beef.

We are already seeing that with A&W and Loblaws, who are advertising heavily about the full accountability of their products.

McDonalds is making noises about doing the same in the very near future. The more information we can share about cattle genetics, feed management, medical treatment, and operating efficiencies, the more profitable everyone can become.

Traceability provides for the kind of collaborative economics that is vital for the industry’s long-term sustainability and growth. Boosting revenues and profitability is a direct result of traceability and improved beef quality. It’s as simple and as complicated, as that.

In order to work, tracking has to flow throughout the supply chain—from lineage, to history of care, to production and processing—to provide fast, credible, accurate, and consistent data to everyone. Integration of traceability is the only way to provide the kind of high quality and credible information consumers demand—and producers need.

As President of a technology company, I can tell you that technology can only do so much. The value of technology grows exponentially when it’s used cooperatively among all the members of the sector, for the benefit of all members of the sector. For an industry known for its independence and rugged individualism, maybe it’s time to start acting more like sheep.

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