Future of livestock registry could be new opportunity

The federal government seems to be contemplating the possibility of getting out of the animal pedigree business

The federal government seems to be contemplating the possibility of getting out of the animal pedigree business, an activity it’s been involved with since the early 1900s. Such musings should come as no surprise to those that understand the basic ideology of the ruling Conservative government. That perspective essentially wants the government to stay out of or get out of business or market related endeavours. There is some common sense to that notion – when one considers the government’s direct and indirect involvement with the economy through hundreds of crown corporation, agencies, boards, commissions and a host of other quasi entities. Many of those bodies were organized years ago when there was a perceived need.

The problem that arises is in many cases the entities continue to survive because there is no mechanism to remove them, even when they become obsolete. Alberta has taken an enlightened approach to that dilemma through a compulsory review process that has to occur every five years. It mandates any agency that has provincial oversight must justify its existence to those it serves or be abolished. However no such process exists at the federal level, so anytime an agency’s mandate is questioned howls of protest erupt from vested interests.

The Canadian government oversees and manages animal genetic recording through the Animal Pedigree Act and established the Canadian Livestock Records Corporation (CLRC) to carry out that activity. It was established over a 100 years ago. Back then there was a need to establish credible protocols and accurate recording of purebred livestock genetic information. At the time no group existed to carry out that service, so the government of the day passed legislation to provide the service mainly to the livestock industry. An agency was established which charged service fees, but being a government agency there never seems to be any urgency to operate on a cost recovery basis. That approach always comes back to haunt government agencies that provide voluntary services.

Most would agree that the CLRC and its predecessor agency have provided good service to the livestock and animal purebred associations it serves. The fact is government management provides a recording guarantee that can be trusted, something smaller livestock groups could not offer. The other reality is that CLRC worked because of economies of scale and regular government updating of logistics. In that regard the agency did receive a setback about 40 years ago when it allowed some livestock associations (Holstein, Hereford, Angus and others) to set up their own livestock registry. That saw the agency lose a big chunk of its business, which affected its operations and the cost of doing business. But it survived with government support and operated under the public radar for many years. Until now.

To address the musings by the government over its future, the CLRC needs to put forth a business plan that involves complete cost recovery. If a case can be made then it behooves the user associations to consider setting up their own agency that is overseen and audited by the federal government. That’s what happened to brand inspection in Alberta and beef grading in Canada. That would put control in the hands of the users and keep the government only as a guarantor of accuracy. That’s the direction for these types of government services today and that should be accepted as a business reality. The fact is what made sense 100 years ago is no longer relevant and neither is past rationale of any consequence.

What this possible change might also encourage is a review as to who could provide registry services. Alberta continues to display considerable competency in this area, not only has brand inspection been successfully privatized, but also a considerable number of other government- related registry services in such areas as car and driver licensing. All those services are now being carried out more efficiently and cheaper than the former government supplied activities.

What also needs to be examined is the possibility of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency taking over the purebred registry business. That agency has the logistics and experience to operate the recoding side of the business. The precedent for cooperation is also in place, the Canadian Livestock Identification Agency is an alliance of cattle, sheep, bison, horse and hog organizations, would it be that far-fetched to have them involved. It would sure be a step forward for livestock industry unity – rather than create another entity. We can only hope that common sense will suddenly break out with this issue.