Imagine using a smart phone to scan the bar- code on a package so that you could tell the exact animal and the farm where the steak came from. It may sound a bit far-fetched, but researchers at Michigan State University are tak- ing a closer look at tracing individual animals from the farm to the consumer’s plate.
Since 2007, Michigan adopted a mandatory live- stock tracking program, requiring that all cattle have a radio frequency identification ear tag before leaving the original farm. Now that the tracking system is in place, the MSU researchers want to improve it by continuing the traceabil- ity of the information beyond the processor.
The smart phone idea might appeal to a select group of consumers in the years to come. But for farmers, traceability can provide several direct benefits to their business operations. A system that is being used by Ontario Corn Fed Beef producers is already demonstrating its value.
For the past few years, cattle feeders have used handheld equipment and software from Merit- Trax-Technologies. The Montreal-based compa- ny has been involved with information technol- ogy in the food industry for the last 25 years, but has specialized in traceability solutions since 2000. Michael Miskin, president of Mer- it-Trax, says the two main advantages of their TR AX-IT Traceability system are the amounts of time producers save to do record-keeping and the ability to transfer the data electronically.
“It really becomes a benefit for the producers who see the value in the information they keep and can use it to their advantage for business purposes,” says Miskin.
In addition to supplying animal RFID numbers to the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency and being able to verify the birth dates of age verified animals, producers can also use the system to document their requirements for quality assurance and for keeping track of other key aspects of production. “We’re giving cattle feeders a system where one action pulls every- thing together for them,” says Miskin. “The real major benefit is the software doing the work and not having the producer spending the ex- tra time to do it manually, which is a frustrating activity for them.”
Not only can the handheld device be used for documenting medication treatments, but it can also be used to record the cost of the dosage. Miskin says the same process can be used to record the amount and cost of feed rations. By keeping track of the various events and costs, the data can help producers analyze their cost of production, giving them valuable informa- tion that can be used for future business deci- sions.
While simplifying the record-keeping is a key aspect, Miskin says the ability to share the in- formation electronically adds another layer of value. It allows a producer owned brand like Ontario Corn Fed Beef to offer their customers the same electronic supply chain management capabilities that the largest cattle buyers and retailers use.
“Available fat cattle inventory can be predicted weeks in advance of shipment to avoid short- ages and quality assurance data is more read- ily available for audit purposes. At the end of the day that is what we are trying to deliver for the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association,” notes Miskin. “It’s making Ontario Corn Fed Beef producers the suppliers of quality assured fed cattle that are most able to do business in that fashion, and we make it as simple as we can for them. So just by clicking a few buttons, the same thing that you’re doing by scanning the RFID tag for traceability, is helping you to get a whole bunch of other important things done electronically.”
As Canada moves to a national livestock trace- ability system, a funding program is now in place for feedlot producers to offset the costs of complying with new regulations. The Live- stock Auction Traceability Initiative, known as LATI, provides contributions to cattle feeders to assist them in preparing their feedlots to en- hance traceability capabilities at high-risk, high through-put sites where animals from different herds co-mingle. Eligible activities include the planning, design, construction and installation of infrastructure changes, including head gates, scales, RFID readers, traceability software and testing and training related to the activities.
According to LATI’s web site, the funding provided under this program will comple- ment existing provincial/territorial traceability programs that also contribute to traceability enhancements. LATI will cover up to 80 per cent of eligible project costs, to a maximum of $100,000 per facility.
For more information, visit the web site, www.agr.gc.ca/lati or call (613) 773-1931.
Merit-Trax Technologies TRAX-IT traceability system is eligible for the LATI program. Michael Miskin is available to help producers who have questions about completing and submitting their application forms to LATI. Michael can be reached at 1-866-736-1996 ext 301 or mmis- firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Blair Andrews