af contributor |calgary
Cattle may have had most of the attention when BSE decimated export markets seven years ago, but other ruminants suffered the same fate. Efforts to regain market access to the U. S. have met with little success to date, said panelists at the Cross Border Livestock Health Conference, held last month in Calgary.
While Canadian farmers have more than enough demand for lamb right here at home, the market closure has greatly decreased genetic diversity within the Canadian flock, panelists said.
Sheep appear not to be susceptible to BSE but, they are susceptible to scrapie, a related form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that is fatal in sheep and goats. There are some flocks in both Canada and the U. S. that are afflicted with scrapie and both countries are actively pursuing disease eradication measures, although the U. S. is spending far more time and dollars on its efforts.
Before the BSE outbreak in 2003, there was a substantial amount of movement between Canada and the U. S., including the shipment of live animals, semen and embryos, said panelist Dr. Lynn Tait of the Canadian Livestock Genetics Association. The bilateral movement required little pre-shipment testing, with the exception of brucellosis, TB and bluetongue testing for animals from certain limited geographic areas. The U. S. also served as a takeoff point for Canadian sheep genetics exports to other countries, including Mexico and parts of the Caribbean and Central America.
When the Canada-U. S. border shut due to BSE, U. S. regulators lumped scrapie in with BSE, effectively closing the door on sheep and goat cross-border travel. To date, the movement of slaughter-ready lambs remains at a complete standstill. Semen can still be transported south, but is slightly harder to move north due to differing domestic regulations. Some protocols are now in place that allow limited movement of breeding stock and embryos to come north into Canada, but there is still no movement of breeding stock going south.
Plenty of domestic demand
Since the closure, both the Canadian and American industries have had to develop alternative markets. “They used to be massive markets for each other,” Tait said. “We’ve certainly seen a change in how and where both countries market.”
The loss of market is not a tragedy for the Canadian industry, however, given that national production is nowhere near national consumption. Rather than selling outside its own borders, Canada started selling virtually exclusively within the country. Currently, Canada consumes every last bite of lamb produced nationally. There is also room for growth: demand for lamb is up 64 per cent since 1997, and Canada still imports 54 per cent of the total amount consumed nationally.
The bigger concern arising from the border restrictions is access to genetics, particularly in certain breeds.
“Breeders are running into a genetic bottleneck because they are not allowed to move genetics back and forth between countries. The closure has had a huge impact on the genetic pool for a lot of breeds of sheep and goats,” Tait said.
Co-panelist Dr. Kathy Parker, a veterinarian representing the Alberta Lamb Producers organization, agreed.
“In some of the breeds, it’s not unusual to see inbreeding coefficients of 40 per cent. Some of the breeds are getting just a little tight,” she said.
Wyoming’s state veterinarian, Dr. Jim Logan, said that he would like to see the border open between the U. S. and Canada and shares the frustrations that a lot of producers have with the closure. However, as state veterinarian, he sees the need to protect the U. S. flock. He said the U. S. has a much more robust scrapie surveillance and eradication program than Canada, as well as specific regulations requiring that countries that import live sheep operate according to the same level of eradication standards.
That said, he believes Canada can and should work towards market access. “I would suggest Canada discuss with the U. S. Department of Agriculture the possibility of regionalization or zoning,” Logan said. “I would encourage Canada to try to develop a producer-driven eradication program so the border can be reopened.”
“In some of the breeds, it’s not unusual to see inbreeding coefficients of 40 per cent. Some of the breeds are getting just a little tight.”
DR. KATHY PARKER
VET REPRESENTING THE ALBERTA LAMB PRODUCERS