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Another Border Perspective

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I stole this of the Canuck sight-Agri ville-- some interesting perspectives...

Tongue twister

Monday, 14 March 2005
Will Verboven

One of the side issues in the BSE border-trade dispute that is causing some mischief is the role of an obscure livestock disease called bluetongue. It mainly affects sheep, but cattle are implicated as carriers of the disease. What does BT have to do with BSE border restrictions? Nothing, really. But crafty Yankee traders have linked it to a resolution of border restrictions on Canadian cattle and beef exports.

The U.S.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has demanded that before any more U.S. border restrictions are removed, Canada must amend BT regulations that restrict the movement of U.S. cattle to Canada. It’s a classic tit-for-tat negotiating position. But given all the agony that BSE has already caused the Canadian cattle business, BT is an annoying issue that Canada’s industry leaders just don’t want to get into right now. Of course BT wouldn’t be an issue at all if federal bureaucrats hadn’t turned the little-known disease into a long-term make-work project.

The genesis of the BT import regulations goes back 20 years. That’s when the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association decided the issue could develop into a major trade irritant affecting Canadian cattle exports to the U.S. How prophetic that position turned out to be.

The regulations were put into place not for any reasons based on rational science or animal health, but to facilitate genetics exports to Europe in the 1960s. Since bluetongue is a resident disease in the U.S. but not here, Canada had to formally put into place BT import restrictions if it wanted to sell genetics to Europe. Any cows coming north would have to be tested for BT. But that, of course, costs money and comes with all kinds of logistical headaches. As a result, it became too costly for Americans to ship into Canada anything but expensive breeding stock.

From a health perspective, the restrictions were nonsense. For at least 100 years, thousands upon thousands of cattle and sheep were trailed into western Canada from as far south as Texas, and there’s no record of any of those animals bringing with them epidemics of BT. The Canadian winter does a thorough job of killing off all the mosquitoes that spread the disease from animal to animal (occasionally some infective mosquitoes are blown into the Okanagan from the south but have not caused any epidemic). A few years ago, the CFIA acknowledged as much when it began allowing U.S. feeder cattle into Canada during the winter months without requiring the standard BT tests--though the process still entails so much bureaucratic red tape that it’s been small relief for U.S. producers.

From a practical aspect, there is little science to back up the need for BT import restrictions on cattle and sheep imports from the U.S. While that may be common sense to many, it isn’t to the regulators at the CFIA, who have waged guerrilla warfare against every attempt to change the rules. They have used the precautionary principle at every opportunity and launched endless risk-assessment studies that have made whole careers for some bureaucrats.

The Americans, who see the BT regulations as nothing more than a non-tariff trade barrier, have been powerless in making any headway with the CFIA. Until now, that is. By linking BT regulations to the BSE border issue, they have put pressure on CFIA to reconsider their obstructionist approach to the BT issue.

But no one should underestimate the stubbornness of the CFIA--even if it would undermine a more harmonious resolution to the border reopening. The regulator is standing by its position that BT changes will only occur after all risk assessments have been exhausted. That has bureaucrats chasing resident mosquitoes to see if they show any potential to spread BT--even though there has never been any indication they ever have.

Hard as it may be to believe, Alberta mosquitoes have now become part of the BSE crisis. The madness continues.

farmers_son posted Mar 27, 2005 7:07
It is unfortunate that this article not only doesn’t provide any useful information about Bluetongue but that it totally ignores the much more serious disease for Canadian cattle producers, Anaplasmosis.

The article says that restrictions on trade were nonsense as thousands of sheep and cattle were trailed into western Canada from as far south as Texas for the last 100 years. Bluetongue was first discovered in the United States in 1952. 100 years ago BT wasn’t a problem and few cattle have been trailed into Canada from as far south as Texas since 1952.

Although the United States was slow to stop the spread of BT after it was first discovered in their domestic herd, mostly a result of a lack of a reliable blood test at that time, they now vigorously block imports of live animals from countries that are infected with BT. Canada’s requirement of a blood test during the summer months has been effective to date in keeping Canada free from BT and we have allowed open access to U.S. feeders during the winter months when there were no insect vectors to spread the disease.

It is not a matter of our Canadian winters killing off the vector for Bluetongue. It is a question of whether the necessary climatic conditions exist within Canada during the summer months for the disease vectors to be competent to spread the disease. The vector is known to exist in southern Alberta. Two things are needed for Bluetongue to spread, an infected source and a competent vector. Since Canada has been Bluetongue free except for two instances in the Okanogan valley and one instance in Saskatchewan involving illegally imported U.S. heifers there has been no source of infection in our country. That source of infection does exist within the United States where is some regions up to 50% of animals would carry Bluetongue.

If BT was to become established within Canada, 30% of infected sheep would die. Mortality in cattle would be more like 5% but abortions in cows infected in the first 90 days of pregnancy would be much higher so it is wrong to say BT is only a disease of sheep.

The question that remains to be answered is the biting midge responsible for spreading BT a competent vector this far north. As the disease does occur in Montana it would seem likely that the right environmental conditions for the vector to spread the disease would be present in Alberta at least some years and BT would spread once the infected disease source was present here.

I do not loose much sleep over BT, other than I am aware of just how important being disease free is to our industry. Anaplasmosis is a much more serious disease for cattle producers and without question will spread in this country once it is introduced with very significant economic costs for all cow/calf operators.

I note that the requirement of a blood test was considered too much of an obstacle for U.S. cattle to enter Canada. I then look to the long list of conditions that were attached to our live cattle entering the U.S., sealed containers, age verified, branded, source documented and think a blood test does not look like much of restriction to me, even considering a blood test was only required May to October.

To say that removing the restrictions on Bluetongue and Anaplasmosis were done to open in a tit for tat trade off related to BSE is not quite accurate. The article mentions that these talks were ongoing for 20 years as feedlot operators like Ben Thorlakson wanted open access to U.S. feeders so they were not pressured to bid up for Canadian feeders. And we were made to look foolish by the NCBA as we discarded the Bluetongue card way too early in this international poker game as our border still is not open to live cattle and we have received no value at all for opening our borders to U.S. diseases.

Long term, I question whether we should be pursing live cattle trade over international borders. Too many issues with disease and politics... Far better to ship grain and beef across borders and each country build sufficient packing capacity to meet their domestic requirements.

Big Muddy rancher

Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Big Muddy valley
[I note that the requirement of a blood test was considered too much of an obstacle for U.S. cattle to enter Canada. I then look to the long list of conditions that were attached to our live cattle entering the U.S., sealed containers, age verified, branded, source documented and think a blood test does not look like much of restriction to me, even considering a blood test was only required May to October.}

This is exactly what I thought when reading the conditions to export. I think they would have limited the number of cattle going south to mostly fats ready for slaughter.

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