Part 1: Canada’s Traceability Pioneers







The evolution of the national ID and traceability system 

A nation-wide livestock ID and traceability program is launched…


It is spring 1997, and a group of like-minded producers, consultants and business experts have come together to advocate the need for a traceability system to be adopted within Canada’s cattle industry. Led by the legendary Carl Block, of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and a true advocate of Canadian agriculture and animal health, the group lays the framework for what will become a world class program benefiting the wider Canadian livestock industry.

Later that year the business plan for how the federal government’s mandatory cattle identification program will be administered was formed, and in 1998 the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) was officially incorporated with Carl named as the fledgling organization’s first board chairman.

The first official board meeting was held on March 5, 1998, presided by Charlie Gracey (representing CCIA), with the board consisting of Carl Block (acclaimed as chairman), Mabel Hamilton, Mark Ishoy, Richard Lower, Ben Thorlakson and Blair Vold (acclaimed as Vice-Chairman). These pioneers of traceability were joined by the CCIA’s Julie Stitt and Dennis Laycraft, as well as Dr. John Kellar (representing the CFIA) and Richard Robinson (AAFC).

Protecting the national herd and food supply

In its earliest days, the core purpose of a national identification system was to permit the trace back to herd of origin of any bovine animal for purposes of animal health and food safety.    


“The core objective of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) National Cattle Identification program is to create a system whereby every bovine animal sold by its original owner, and leaving its herd of origin, bears a unique identification number. That unique identification number will remain with that animal until it is slaughtered and after slaughter will serve to identify the carcass and its products and will be maintained as an identifying number until 60 days post slaughter.” 1



(Source: Summary of Key Findings and Future Directions, by Charles Gracey, Proceedings of the May 7, 1997, National Identification and Information Workshop, Calgary Alberta)

The development of ID numbers

At the time, the dairy sector already had a system of numbering that predated computers and required a lot of data management for things like breed, birth date, and gender, that were not necessarily relevant to trace back. From studying this system, it was decided to assign a random number that was quite simply the next in the series; with the next step being to reserve blocks of numbers that may be unique to an identifiable group.  

This concept of a registry – to give out and record numbers – would be key to the success of the program, and several different options were discussed including expanding Ontario’s registry at the time, the existing brand inspection registry or having producers register their animals in the appropriate breed registries. However, there were potential issues with overlap between registries and it was unclear how a coordinated approach could be facilitated. So, a working group was struck up to explore appropriate protocol and standards, to ensure an affordable, reliable, low-complexity system.


Canadian Cattle Identification Agency was formed 

With the official establishment of the CCIA, the board’s vision was to be supported by the CCIA’s first General Manager, Julie Stitt, who had worked closely with Carl, and others, in bringing Canada’s livestock traceability program to life, and was now responsible for delivering the CCIA’s mandate to industry.

A highlight from the CCIA’s first board minutes is this recommendation from its Technical Committee, which was carried:


“To best meet the requirements at both the producer and packer level, a basic system consisting of a metal or plastic tag inscribed with a unique identification standardized number, bar code and logo (maple leaf in a circle) identifying authenticity, is recommended. This system will offer the flexibility to administer additional options for identification providing the criteria of the national ID system are attained.” 

Also recommended was a nine-digit tag numbering system, starting with the country code and consistent with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards – elements of which are still in place today. Tag trials were also discussed to test retention, readability, reliability, and the overall quality of the product.

Communications to industry, funding and government regulations were also on the table at that first meeting.

These early years of traceability met with lots of opposition, with many suspicious of the CCIA’s intentions, but Carl Block maintained it was the right direction for industry to take, especially considering what had been happening during this period in the United Kingdom with the foot-and-mouth and BSE epidemics.

Today, 25 years stronger, the CCIA continues to lead the way in ensuring that Canada’s livestock industry has a program it can be proud of, and its scope has grown to include the administration of bison, sheep, and pending regulation, goats and cervid identification (with some exceptions in Québec).

More from our history will be posted throughout 2023, so come back often and don’t forget to check out our social media feeds on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

If you have a story, memory, or photo to share about the CCIA, we’d love to hear from you.

Email us at


To read the second part of our 25th Anniversary retrospective please click here > >

Copyright @ Canadian Cattle Identification Agency