Maple Leaf Foods announced its DNA traceability program for its pork products earlier this year, but so far no such pork products have been offered to the market. However, that will change next month (December), as the first products hit the market. They will head for Japan, which after all is the primary motivation behind the effort. Maple Leaf exports 40 percent to 60 percent of its meat products.
Maple Leaf's DNA process allows the packer to trace a piece of meat from the grocery store shelf back to the animal.
It could give Maple Leaf, and Canada an edge in the export market, which is exactly
the goal of Michael McCain, Maple Leaf's chief executive officer. Many Japanese already view Canadian and U.S. pork as comparable in terms of quality– possibly with Canada having an edge. Canada also has left Japanese importers that it's more likely to accommodate their requests than U.S. suppliers.
McCain believes DNA traceability should be adopted by all participants in Canada's meat industry. He says the Canadian food and meat processing industry can differentiate itself from global competitors– such as the United States– by emphasizing the meat safety benefits of DNA tracking. He points to consumers' heightened food-safety concerns as reasons why. He also believes it could help keep borders open to Canadian meat products.
He may be right. Whether DNA provides added security or window dressing to meat buyers and consumers is yet to be seen. It looks like we're all getting closer to finding out. Regardless, it may simple raise the bar for all competitors.