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Border concerns dominate ABP meeting

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Country-of-Origin Labelling, age verification, and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency were the talk of the town at Alberta Beef Producers’ fall meetings this month. About 75 feedlot operators and cowcalf producers converged at Perlich Bros. Auction Market in Lethbridge on October 30 to voice their concerns and opinions. Other meetings occurred throughout the province in late October and early November.

Brent Carey of Stavely, a cowcalf producer and Alberta Beef Producers Zone 2 director, said producers in the Lethbridge area are among those calling for action in response to the impacts of Country-of-Origin Labelling (COOL) on the Canadian cattle industry. “There was some talk about Canada closing the border to U. S. beef imports,” said Carey. “Although I understand the thought process of such a proposition, I’m not sure if you want to poke the bear right now. Outlets for killing cattle are already narrowed down and it would be even worse if we shut the border.”

A resolution will go to the Alberta Beef Producers during its annual meeting from December 8 to 10 in Calgary and, if passed, will result in an industry lobby to

“Although I understand the thought process of such a proposition, I’m not sure if you want to poke the bear right now.”

Ottawa. “We’re not happy with COOL, and even though it’s in direct contravention with NAFTA, we can’t proceed without stiff repercussions,” said Carey.

Carey points to cattle producers in Manitoba whose main outlet for slaughter is the U. S. Midwest, where a growing number of plants are no longer accepting Canadian beef due to implementation pressures from COOL.

Rick Paskal, a Picture Butte cattle feeder, agrees that COOL is detrimental to the Canadian cattle industry, which routinely sends live cattle to be fed and slaughtered in the United States. Paskal said there are about 500 product lines that come off a carcass and four classes of product under COOL – ‘A’ for U. S. country of origin, ‘B’ for multiple countries of origin, ‘C’ for cattle imported for immediate slaughter and ‘D’ for foreign country of origin. A typical packer accommodates only one class of product.

“When you start adding another product line, there is a cost associated with it,” he said. “If you already have A and then add B, you double the amount of product lines or skews that come off the carcass.” Essentially, COOL is making it uneconomic for U. S. cattle processing facilities to accommodate Canadian cattle.

NOT CONSUMER DRIVEN

On a recent trip to the U. S., Paskal conducted his own survey of what American consumers are asking for at grocery stores. “They don’t care about where the beef comes from – they care about price and quality. I was the first person to ask about origin at the stores,” said Paskal. “What we have here with COOL is not a demand of the consumer – it’s politics,” he said.

He supports the resolution to close the Canadian border to American beef imports. “In Canada, we’re not allowed to use the same pharmaceuticals on cattle as in the U. S., so why don’t we shut the border to American product under the influence of those pharmaceuticals? Is it a consumer concern? No, but those cattle are raised under a different protocol,” he said.

“The Americans did something political, so we can too.”

Paskal said the one thing that has sheltered the Canadian industry from the impacts of COOL thus far is the weaker Canadian dollar over the past few months.

As for the state of the industry in general, Carey said that it’s a difficult time to make decisions. “The dollar is bouncing around, beef prices are going down and we’re facing a change in U. S. government,” he said.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and traceability also received attention at the Lethbridge meeting. In order to receive the second payment of the Alberta Farm Recovery Plan II, producers must comply with the long-term age verification and premises identification objectives of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy by January 1, 2009.

While age verification staff were on hand at the Alberta Beef Producers fall meetings, Carey didn’t anticipate that they would be utilized much. Only one producer age verified his cattle at the Lethbridge meeting. “With all of the people on the ground, they’re making it easier to age verify cattle,” said Carey. “I’ve spent a lot of time around calf sales and auction markets and see people with their age verification papers in hands, happy to be getting it done.”

He said that age verification is the right road to travel down but he has issues with making it mandatory.

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