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Canadian-EU Beef Exports Become More Economic

Canadian beef may soon have easier access to European Union (EU) markets, thanks to upcoming revisions to the production and processing protocol that governs Europe s imports of Canadian beef.

These changes would be very significant, says Mark Klassen, director of technical services for the Canadian Cattlemen s Association, who has been working with industry reps and government officials to update this protocol for the past five years. Changes will give Canada a good opportunity in one of the world s largest markets for beef.

And, he says, because the EU is projected to increase imports, due in part to declining domestic production, It s a significant opportunity now and a growing opportunity.

Canada s EU beef export protocol, created in 1996 to respond to Europe s 1989 ban on Growth Enhancement Products (GEPs), is so strict and complex that few producers are able to comply. Consequently, the Canadian beef industry has sent almost no beef exports to the EU even under the duty-free quota.

We prioritized a number of changes to try to reduce the cost of the program. If you re not using GEPs, you re already down roughly $100 in lost growth efficiency and carcass yield. You re already under water and you can t afford to add much more in terms of cost.

We did make a protocol that in my mind offered very strong assurances, but was so difficult to implement that it almost certainly did affect participation and ultimately our exports.

Klassen expects that the new Canadian EU protocol will be acceptable to European regulators, given that many of the revisions mirror practices the EU already accepts in US and Australian exports.

The updated protocol includes five important changes that will help streamline compliance:

” Given that today s CCIA RFID tags fulfill the EU s tamper-proof and unique identifier ear-tag requirements, an EU-specific ear-tag which is both expensive and often difficult to purchase has been deemed unnecessary.

” Urine tests will be conducted on carcasses at the processing plant rather than on live animals at the feedlot, increasing ease and safety.

” Approved veterinarians will be required to conduct farm visits less often. As Klassen says, A vet is $100 plus per hour, and the more visits you have to have, the more you pay. We re trying to get to the U.S. average of two visits per year for feedlots.

” The broad category of paperwork required for exports will be streamlined. For example, transfer certificates will be simplified so scanning of individual animals can happen at the feedlot as opposed to on a cow-calf producer s farm.

” The availability of animals that can be sold to EU markets will be widened. This revision is trying to make it possible to procure EU-eligible animals through the auction mart, he said.

There s good news on the processing side of the industry as well. North American processors widely use antimicrobial interventions such as steam or hot water carcass pasteurization and lactic or acetic acid spray, which effectively address pathogens that might be present on the exterior of the carcass.

However, the EU s long-term stance has been to prohibit the use of antimicrobial treatments outright. Now, after much discussion with Canadian officials, the EU is now prepared to consider these treatments. We ve got them to accept steam and we re still working on getting them to accept hot water carcass pasteurization, says Klassen.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is working on changing the EU s stance on organic acid sprays. When the U.S. made an agreement with the EU on removing sanctions that were put in place because of the hormone dispute, they made it a condition that we would have to make progress on antimicrobial sprays. I m very optimistic. We ve seen some preliminary response from the EU that I think is very encouraging especially on lactic acid spray. I m hopeful that within the next year the antimicrobial issue will be solved, says Klassen.

Klassen said the EU s stance is difficult to understand. I think the (EU s) argument is that employing these treatments on the carcass may reduce the incentive to implement hygienic practices on the slaughter floor, he said. However, we know that in Canada these interventions are part of a comprehensive food safety system where due diligence at each step contributes to the achievement of strict microbiological standards. Further, while cuts from the carcass may be exported to the EU, the trim is typically sold in North America where buyers often require these treatments to be used.

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