Alberta Beef Producers not keeping cool

Written by Garrett Simmons

Thursday, 06 June 2013 16:36

 The Alberta Beef Producers are not COOL with what the organization calls a failure to comply by the United States with World Trade Organization policy.
The recent deadline for the U.S. to bring its Country of Origin Labelling requirements into compliance with international obligations came and went, as the United States Department of Agriculture published a regulatory change Alberta producers say actually increases the discriminatory impact of COOL.
“It’s not good,” said Bob Lowe, the Nanton-area Zone 2 director of the Alberta Beef Producers. “It’s funny how the U.S. can blatantly disregard the rest of the world.”
What isn’t a laughing matter is the impact COOL could have on the province’s cattle industry, which Lowe added could experience a dramatic hit to its bottom line.
“There’ll be such stringent requirements in the U.S. with product segregation and labelling, and those costs are going to be passed down.”
As requirements will be put in place to inform American shoppers where the animal they are eating was born, raised and slaughtered, Lowe added it’s simply going to cost more in the future to produce a pound of beef. That’s not only bad news for local ranchers and the like, but there are also negatives for facilities down south.
“It could close down plants in the northern U.S. that rely on Canadian cattle,” said Lowe, who’s heard rough estimates over 50,000 jobs could be lost south of the border from a policy which gained steam through two main lobby groups. “From what I understand, RCALF and the National Farmers’ Union were the two groups behind it.”
It all comes down to an issue of fairness, according to Lowe, who added international rules regarding trade are there for a reason.
“The Americans, they are actually close to neutral — they can produce enough beef for themselves, but at the same time, the issue is trade,” said Lowe, who added Western Canadian producers ship a lot of cattle to the U.S., while Eastern Canada imports a lot from its neighbours, which should result in a mutually-beneficial system.
Should COOL produce the type of impact north of the border some fear, Lowe added some agricultural sectors here could be in serious trouble.
“The feeding industry is in dire straights right now, and this is just one more nail in the coffin,” he said, as he also pointed to negatives which will face the cow-calf industry in Alberta.
The Alberta Beef Producers, who also cited additional handling costs on imported livestock in the U.S., put the cost at $25 to $40 per head for Canadian producers, which totals about $640 million per year, as losses incurred since COOL was implemented in late 2008. As a result, the Alberta Beef Producers has joined the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and others across the country, to urge the government to take action.
“All we can do is make sure our provincial government and our federal governments realize, and I think they do, how dangerous this is,” said Lowe. “We have to retaliate. We have to make it right, and we can’t take this lying down. This is a major blow to the cattle industry and we will take it before the WTO again and say the U.S. is not complying.”
Alberta cattle producers did receive some good news however, as the federal government announced Canadian beef producers now have full market access to Chile for beef exports, under an agreement which has the potential for growth of up to $10 million in three years.
“We definitely need to create markets outside the U.S.”?said Lowe, who added the U.S. market is still key for Albertans. “Every little bit helps and I?have no idea what kind of a market that is, but 90-per-cent of our exports to the the U.S., so it will never come close to that.”