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Canadian beef sector works to restore trade with U.S.

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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Canadian beef sector works to restore trade with U.S.

EDMONTON (CP) - With young cattle finally moving across the U.S. border again, Canada's beef industry is quietly preparing for the next hoof to drop in the two-year-old trade dispute. Ranchers were relieved last week when a U.S. appeal court overturned an injunction against importing Canadian cattle under 30 months of age for slaughter in American meat plants.
If that appeal court ruling stands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release a proposed rule before the end of the year for trade to resume in Canadian breeding stock and cattle over 30 months of age.

Everything hinges on how the U.S. courts deal with a proposal by the protectionist American group R-CALF for a permanent ban on Canadian beef, said Stan Eby, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

"The USDA has done all the risk analysis for over-30-month beef and breeding stock. When the legal issues are cleared away, they will present a rule that will cover all other classes of livestock and beef products," Eby said from his farm in Kincardine, Ont.

"We are trying to get them to expedite this as quickly as possible so all sectors of the industry can resume trading with the U.S."

District court Judge Richard Cebull was to hear R-CALF's arguments for a permanent ban Wednesday in Billings, Mont. But the case has been delayed indefinitely pending a review of the written reasons for the appeal court's decision.

Some believe the case could be shelved permanently.

That's the hope of the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, whose members have been suffering from a ban on selling purebred breeding bulls and heifers to the United States since May 2003, when the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in Alberta.

Altogether, the ban has cost Canada's beef and dairy breeding industry more than $500 million in lost sales, said Herb McLane, vice-president of the council.

The ban has also hurt the industry's ability to improve the genetics of beef herds on both sides of the border.

The industry has been working with the federal government in its lobbying efforts with the USDA to reopen the border completely.

"We are lobbying for a speedy implementation of a second rule that would cover cattle over 30 months of age and breeding cattle," McLane said from his ranch in Hussar, Alta.

"We are pushing very hard to see that rule this year. We have some indication from the U.S. that that is their wish as well."

Canada's push for the second rule is based on the same premise that supported the current rule that has allowed the trade in young cattle to resume - risk factors for BSE in Canada are no different than in the U.S.

Agriculture Canada is pressing the U.S. to include all other aspects of the beef ban in a second rule, including the estimated 6.7 million beef and dairy cattle in Canadian herds that are over 30 months of age.

While Canada's slaughter plant capacity has increased over the past two years, reopening U.S. markets to all products including older beef and cattle is important, said Chris Leggett, deputy director of U.S.-Canada trade issues.

"We've been bringing this up in every meeting we have with the USDA," Leggett said in Ottawa.

"We've been assured that once the legal situation has cleared up we can expect them to deal with it expeditiously. Any information that USDA has requested with regard to the measures we have taken in Canada to manage BSE has been provided."

Producers in less well-known sectors of Canada's ruminant livestock industry such as bison, sheep and goats have been celebrating the reopening of the U.S. border to young animals. But they're also pushing for more.

This week the first live bison to cross the border in more than two years are expected to be shipped from the Prairie provinces to a slaughter facility in North Dakota.

Gil Hegel of the Bison Producers of Alberta said after two very lean years that's great, but said they will still have to deal with the continued ban on breeding stock and older animals.

"If we can get rid of all the politics over the border problem I think we will be well on the way to recovery," he said. "If we can keep politics out, we can make a buck at it."

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