‘Interesting, exasperating year’ for cattle industry

It’s a good thing folks in the cattle and beef industry are tough and resilient, considering what has happened to them

It’s a good thing folks in the cattle and beef industry are tough and resilient, considering what has happened to them over the past year or so.

I should add patient and considerate in accepting with fortitude every new calamity and setback that would almost wipe out a lot of other industries.

Perhaps after the BSE incident 10 years ago, cattle producers and the beef-processing industry are able to survive most anything. It’s even starting to feel like this is just the way the cattle business has become — one starts to expect when, and not if, the next bad incident will happen.

About a year ago, the American industry was battered by a contrived media hysteria about the use of so-called pink slime — more properly known as finely textured beef.

Although it didn’t affect the Canadian retail market, as the product was not used here, the bad PR spilled over the border as the sensationalist media tried to make all ground beef look suspect in the eyes of the consumer.

The sad part was that this was a safe use of a product that was otherwise rendered or used for pet food. It was one of those state-of-mind panics — being consumers could not buy or see the product directly. Curiously, in its original manufactured form, it resembled Slurpies or pudding — but I guess that’s not slime in the media’s mind.

It didn’t take long for the next calamity to strike the industry — and it was a bombshell. E.coli 157 contamination broke out with some beef products made by XL Foods. A number of people got sick, but no one died from the disease.

The meat recall, union belligerence, consumer suspicion, media hounding and CFIA antagonism made it all but impossible to restart the plant.

Luckily, a white knight in the form of JBS USA rode into town to save the day and the plant from a permanent shutdown.

Curiously, during that same time, people got sick and even died from a different E.coli outbreak. It was ignored by the media and even somewhat covered up by government officials.

The only reason for the difference was that it involved lettuce and not beef — an outrageous double standard.

Trade issues took a new turn for the industry and it wasn’t very positive. One has to feel real sympathy for CCA trade policy staff, which has worked hard for years to obtain market access for Canadian cattle and beef, only to be constantly frustrated with new roadblocks and conniving foreign trade officials.

More access to European beef markets seems so close, with a new free-trade deal with the EU. But, alas, that seems unlikely as the EU will not give Canada anymore access than it plans to give to the U.S.

I suspect that Canada will throw Canadian beef exports under the bus just to sign an EU free-trade agreement before they make a deal with the U.S. I do wish that I am wrong about that, but there’s a foreboding feeling about this trade deal that agriculture will be the sacrificial calf.

Just to add to CCA anxiety about trade issues, the USDA has shown its disdain of a WTO trade ruling on COOL that went against them by making COOL regulations even worse.

They also know that it’s likely Canadian officials with their boy-scout reputation will eventually compromise.

I wonder if the CCA has a Plan B that the Canadian government will support. I suspect — delay, delay, delay — is the real plan with COOL.

If all of that was not enough — there is more bad news for the cattle industry. The recent Alberta government budget saw a reduction in the ALMA budget. An $8-million cut might seem minor, but a good chunk of that will come out of cattle- and beef-related projects.

Then there is the recent agreement between the Alberta Beef Producers and the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association to continue the $1 non-refundable national cattle checkoff.

That deal took months of valuable time and energy over an issue that seems to most as resolvable with some common sense. It was for essentially for a two-year period — which guaranteed that more drawn-out discussion will again begin in a little more than a year.

It’s been an interesting (or is it exasperating?) year or so in the life of the cattle and beef industry.

— AHEAD OF THE HEARD


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