New organization optimistic, but politics and intrigue remain

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Ahead of the Heard

The last couple of months marked the birth of the new super beef promotion organization entitled, Canada Beef Inc., or just Canada Beef as they want it to be known. It was the result of the amalgamation of the Beef Information Centre (BIC), Canada Beef Export Federation (CBEF) and the National Beef Checkoff Agency. I have written about the process and potential as the drama unfolded over the past couple of years. As is the usual case in the cattle and beef industry, it was fi lled with the usual politics and intrigue.

The amalgamation idea was nothing new and had been swirling around for years. It just needed a catalyst and some determination to bite the bullet. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association can be credited with being the behind the scenes, prodding the two parties to face the music.

The process had a few twists— the CBEF board at fi rst turned down the idea but was later forced to retract when it became clear that it would lose its major funding. There is nothing like a sudden loss of income to provide a new perspective on the value of principles and mandates.

What was not all that clear was how the new amalgamated organization would look as to structure and governance. In the end, the transition group designed an organization that was unlike either BIC or CBEF.

In retrospect, that was a wise decision as the old entities both had a narrow focus and spheres of influence. Besides, there were very successful precedents for large-scale global beef promotion agencies — namely the big three; Meat & Livestock Australia, U.S. Meat Export Federation, and Beef & Lamb New Zealand. Those three are the big dogs in the beef promotion and market development business around the world. They are very successful and fearsome competitors — might as well copy their model.

In the past, I have had personal encounters with the Australian and New Zealand agencies. Their scope, resources, experience, and marketing skills and shrewdness makes selling Canadian beef anywhere a challenging experience.The other problem the new Canada Beef organization will have is that they are up against old established export agencies that are very well-fi nanced and have budgets that are 10-fold and more larger. But that’s OK, because brash, youthful enthusiasm has a way of getting attention and upsetting the apple cart.

CBEF was quite active in advocacy work, particularly after the BSE outbreak when Canadian beef was locked out of a number of export markets. My view is that was important work and kept the issue alive in those countries and also provided important political intelligence. I suspect the fi ne hand of the CCA is behind the decision to exclude advocacy from the mandate of the new organization.

Rightfully, the CCA considers advocacy and trade policy its mandate and doesn’t take kindly to other agencies (particularly those that it helped create) stepping on their toes. I expect they were particularly annoyed with CBEF when they clashed on the issue of BSE testing for marketing. CBEF also tangled with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Canada on a number of regulatory and trade issues.

In comparison, the CCA prefers to co-operate with those two government agencies rather than antagonize them. The CCA probably wanted to avoid that from happening with the new Canada Beef. But that has some repercussions.

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