WINGHAM, ONT. -- Earl Leonhardt has taken the extreme step of writing “I’m not old” on one of his beef cattle, before shipping it for processing. That’s because earlier this year, one of his steers was red-flagged for being over 30 months of age, when it wasn’t.

“I was just a little bit ticked off, because that cost me $350, taking out that backbone,” says Leonhardt.

Since the arrival of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Canada back in 2003, cattle older than 30 months have had parts deemed at “high-risk” of carrying BSE removed so they do not enter the food chain.

That includes the cattle’s backbone. Which is what happened to one of Leonhardt’s animals earlier this year. Problem is, Leonhardt says the steer was not 30 months old, and he’s got the birth certificate to prove it.

“When you do everything the right way, the way they want you to do it, like get your cattle age-verified and tags, and then it’s no good for nothing? That’s not right,” says Leonhardt, who farms near Wingham.

Leonhardt says the processing facility told him that a provincial inspector checked the animal’s teeth, and not the birth certificate, even though it was attached to the animal’s leg.

“He didn’t even look at the birth certificate, they told me. I said, 'Why not? Next time I’ll attach it to his leg.' That’s where it was, they said,” says Leonhardt.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs who oversee the inspection of animals at provincial meat processing facilities, wouldn’t comment on Leonhardt’s specific case, but had this to say.

“When available, reliable documentation is considered more accurate than teeth and shall be used as the primary means of determining the age of animals.”

Leonhardt says he’s not alone. He knows of other farmers this has happened to, which is why he sent this bold message to the next inspector.

“If it happened once, it could happen again,” says Leonhardt.

Leonhardt would send his animals further away from 30 months, but his Wagyu cattle get all the desired marbling in the meat right up until 30 months of age.