The company claims that the concept could have far-reaching consequences for food safety in the increasingly globalised meat industry.
Maple Leaf believes that the DNA traceability system will allow Canadian pork marketed anywhere in the world to be traced back to the maternal sow, providing the Canadian pork industry with a major competitive advantage and an essential point of difference for the 'Made in Canada' brand.
In addition, manufacturers in the EU are preparing for legislation on food traceability that will come into force in January 2005. The new legislation means that food traceability through the supply chain is going to become a legal responsibility.
Under the new laws, food producers must be able to identify products by batch, lot or consignment numbers and traceability of the product must be possible at all stages of production, processing and distribution. This means food businesses will have to be able to identify every supplier of food, feed, a food producing animal or any substance incorporated into their food/feed products.
"In an era of growing concerns over food safety and increasing demands for full traceability of meat products, this breakthrough will deliver an added level of food safety assurance," said Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain. "By using DNA, which is nature's bar code, this system is uniquely positioned to trace product from the consumer to the farm of origin, where current methods cannot. DNA traceability will provide a calling card for Canadian pork that no other country can currently match."
Maple Leaf worked with Pyxis Genomics in the research and development of the DNA traceability project. Pyxis says that although the traceability system was developed specifically for pork products, it is broadly applicable to other animal-species.
The traceability system involves obtaining a blood sample from the maternal sow, which is then DNA-typed. The DNA information is then entered into a database linked to the farm of origin information. Producers can then update the database directly with the dates of birth of each litter.
"The success of identifying the gene panel significantly enhances our ability to provide live animal tracking systems that can directly link store-bought product back to its origin in a matter of hours, instead of days or weeks," said Pyxis Genomics CEO Lawrence Schook. "This is critical in an industry seeking to offer the highest standards of assurance to consumers in containing food safety incidents when they occur."
UK-based Orchid BioSciences Europe is now developing an assay to analyse the genetic marker panel. The DNA system is scheduled for implementation in the spring of 2004, and will initially provide fully traceable pork products to the Japanese market by the fourth quarter of 2004.
Maple Leaf plans to make the commercial traceability system available for use by the Canadian pork industry after the initial implementation.