Know Your Beef – What is DNA Traceback?

When I first started seeing the DNA Traceback labels on the beef I was buying at Loblaws I started wondering what exactly it meant. Even before I started working with Ontario Corn Fed Beef.

I wondered where it fell in the food safety process. How much information I could get on the meat I was eating? If there was a quick and easy way, as a consumer, to identify which farm my steak came from? And, although I knew it was unlikely and impractical, if I could find out the name of the cow I was eating? Yes,  I’ve seen the Portlandia episode, too!

Turns out that Portlandia episode isn’t quite as out there as you might think. Nearly 76% of Canadians feel it is important to know where their beef comes from, and over 80% say it is important that their beef is fully traceable back to a Canadian farm.


So as soon as we started talking about the DNA Traceback on the Ontario Corn Fed Beef #Beefy Tour, I knew I’d be writing this article. My schemy brain started its schemes.

Here’s how I planned it out: I would go to Loblaws and buy a piece of Ontario Corn Fed beef. I’d talk to the butcher and do a DNA Traceback on my piece of beef, and see what information I could get about the beef I purchased. I’d then cook it up and share the process, the information and photo of the meal with you.
Well, as usual, things didn’t quite go as planned.

I did go into Loblaws.


I did buy a piece of beef.  (Let’s be fair, that’s not unusual.)

And I talked the butcher.

The butcher talked to another butcher. Who invited a very friendly guy named Trevor out to speak with me. Trevor is in charge of the meat departments at Loblaws Carleton. We had a very interesting, but fairly short conversation about the DNA Traceback program.

Turns out, my initial thoughts about the DNA Traceback program were a little off. While it does protect the consumer, it is not strictly for the consumer to use to entertain themselves. (Yes, I’m aware my scheme was more for my entertainment and edification than for any practical purpose.)

DNA Traceback flier - Loblaws (1)
The DNA Traceback program is actually a very sophisticated and technical program which involves tagging calves with RFID ear tags and a unique ID number at their farm/ranch of origin and tracking them through their lifetime.  This is all done through the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency. Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that, since July 1, 2010, all cattle in Canada must be tagged before leaving their farm of origin?


Now I wanted to know more about the DNA Traceback system and it’s purpose, so I turned to my buddies at the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association and ask some questions.

What is DNA Traceback? 

DNA TraceBack tracks the DNA in meat products – not packaging, barcodes or labels. DNA is a unique identifier and links the meat you buy in store with the exact animal it came from. Using nature’s barcode, DNA TraceBack identifies animals and meat throughout the supply chain, ensuring the beef you buy in-store is exactly as described on the label.

When and how would DNA Traceback be used? And by whom?

The DNA TraceBack® process is a routine verification and monitoring program that is utilized by Loblaws to monitor our Canadian beef supply chain. This verification program allows Loblaw to put supplier performance metrics in place and ensure that Loblaws Canadian beef products meet those stringent requirements.

What are the key benefits of DNA TraceBack for the consumer?

DNA TraceBack® allows Loblaws to answer one of the most common questions consumers increasingly have, that Loblaw knows and understands the source of all their Canadian beef they buy, E.g. That Loblaws Canadian beef is sourced from cattle raised by Canadian producers and harvested in Canada to Loblaws exacting standards. In the case of Ontario, that the Ontario Corn Fed Beef (OCFB) in the Loblaws’ stores originated from OCFB cattle finished on Ontario family farms throughout Ontario reared through the stringent guidelines provided for in the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program. It also provides consumers with additional assurances that Loblaws is continuously striving to provide their customers with the best eating experience possible through their rigorous sourcing policies.

What are the key benefits of DNA TraceBack for retailers and industry?

The main benefits for Loblaws and the Canadian beef industry are the transparency and accountability in the Canadian beef supply chain. The DNA TraceBack® process increases the transparency of the Canadian beef supply chain, and it allows Loblaws to hold the Canadian beef supply chain more accountable. This enables Loblaws to ensure that only the best Canadian beef cattle and Canadian beef products meet our program standards, delivering a consistent, high-quality eating experience to the consumer every time they make a purchase at one of Loblaw’s stores.

How does DNA TraceBack “assure beef quality”?

Loblaws has specific requirements for the Canadian beef cattle included in our Canadian beef programs. The DNA TraceBack® system allows Loblaws to monitor the Canadian beef products provided by the supply chain to ensure those Canadian beef products come from the Canadian beef cattle that meet our Canadian beef program standards. This monitoring and verification helps ensure a high quality and consistent eating experience for our consumers every time they make a purchase at one of Loblaw’s stores.

It takes time, passion and attention to detail when producing great tasting beef. DNA Traceback determines exactly where beef comes from, enabling grocers and processors to better monitor various production methods to improve the quality of their beef.

And then, I just wanted to make sure my memory was working, because those RFID ear tags are so smart.

Cow and Calves Ear tags - DNA Traceback

Can you confirm that

the RFID tags used for each calf allow the traceability all the way from the farm where the calves were born to the carcass being delivered to butchers? And that DNA Traceability allows confirmation of the animal moving through each stage.

RFID tags are used in live animal traceability, placed on the animal at the ranch/farm of origin, and are then removed during processing of the animal. Once the RFID tag is removed during processing, all traceability for the finished products relies on production lots. It’s at this point that DNA traceability allows Loblaws to track retail store Canadian beef products back to the animal of origin. DNA TraceBack® (nature’s barcode) is a scientific method that can take a retail store Canadian beef product from any point in the post-harvest complex supply chain, and identify the exact animal that the Canadian beef product originated from.

There are 2 websites floating around on labels, so I figured I’d ask which one is the “right” one.

What is the correct website to refer to?

Both websites offer accurate information on the DNA TraceBack program

  • is used for Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for the consumer to learn more about the technical aspects about DNA Traceability
  • is used for link & learn all about Loblaws DNA traceable Canadian Beef Programs.

While I didn’t get to do my deep dive into the origins of my steak, it was nice to know it was possible for that traceback to be done if necessary.

Ontario Corn Fed Beef Steak

I am much more informed about the safety and control measures introduced by the DNA Traceback program, and I hope you are too. It’s nice to see the use of appropriate technology in the Ontario Corn-Fed Beef program and it is certainly evident in the consistent flavour and quality of beef.

Ontario Corn-Fed Beef

Note:  this post is sponsored by Ontario Corn Fed Beef. Read the other posts in the Ontario Corn Fed Beef series.
For more information on my relationship with brands please, read my disclosure statement

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

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