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New food safety rules may drive weed-eating goats out of Edmonton, herder says

'The way the legislation is going ahead, it's going to totally tank our industry'

CBC News Aug 21, 2017 

The City of Edmonton is deploying a herd of goats to control weeds in city parks. But proposed changes to food safety laws could hamper the four-legged lawnmowers.

The changes to the federal Health of Animals Regulations would require strictly tracking each animal's movements from the farm to the slaughterhouse.

The changes would mean that all operations where livestock may be loaded or unloaded from a vehicle would need a valid premises identification number for each site and would have to report the number when receiving livestock.

Each animal must be tagged and and new data must be entered every time an animal is relocated. This way, any disease outbreak can be easily traced to its source.

Jeanette Hall, the owner of Baah'd Plant Management & Reclamation, supports the idea of traceability — in theory. She wants to be able to look on a map and see if quarantines exist.

But in practice, the regulations are a bit of a headache.

"The way the wording is being set up, the way the legislation is going ahead, it's going to totally tank our industry," Hall said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Throughout the summer months, Hall herds 200 goats through weed-infested parks across Alberta.

Her brood has been celebrated for munching its way through fields of unwanted weeds that would otherwise be sprayed with pesticides.

Her flock have most recently been chowing down on dandelion, knapweed and thistles in Rundle and Hermitage parks in northeast Edmonton as part of a city-mandated pilot project.

Each goat consumes about 10 pounds of weeds daily. 

The Edmonton herd is trained specifically to nosh through invasive weeds such as Canada thistle, leafy spurge, tansy, common burdock and yellow toadflax. 

Hall fears that newly proposed federal food safety requirements will drive her — and her herd of four-legged weed-eaters — out of business.

Even though her goats don't end up in the food chain, they would still be required to follow the Canadian Food Inspection Agency traceability requirements.

While cows intended for the slaughterhouse move a few times in their lives, her goats move every few days.

Small grazing operations like hers will suffer, Hall said.

'This is really serious' 
"For the goat industry, we won't even get a year trial period. Once these laws go through, they're pretty solid. And we're looking at $60,000 in penalties or six months in prison so this is really serious and it can really affect our industry," she said.

"It's not just me. It's a number of people from our industry that are going to be suffering from this."

Hall fears compliance with the new tracking regulations will be impossible and she'll be buried in piles of expensive paperwork.

The required tags are also problematic because they often rip out of goats' ears as the animals plow through deep brush, she said.

Hall expects the changes will cost her an additional $200,000 in operational costs.

"They need us to tag each individual animal, enter every single ID number on each animal and the put it into the program when we move," Hall said.

"It makes sense if you're doing it once a year, maybe it's not such a big of a deal. But when you're doing it as frequently as I do, it is an issue."

A spokesperson for the CFIA confirmed that "goat lawnmowers" would be subject to the new tracking even though they're not destined for slaughter.

Hall is lobbying the federal government for some exemptions to the regulations.

She wants her herd to be defined as a "closed herd," so only a single identification number would be needed for tracking purposes.

If Ottawa fails to take her special circumstances into account, Hall fears that her beloved herd of urban goats may be heading back to the farm for good.