As trade tensions rise between the U.S. and Canada, Manitoba’s beef industry is celebrating the removal of a long-standing irritant.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rolled back testing requirements on bovine tuberculosis for breeding stock, an issue that producers say has hovered over their industry since 1997, when the CFIA downgraded Manitoba’s TB status.
As of July 1, the USDA will no longer require breeding cattle or bison to be tested before crossing the border. The previous policy required a test within 60 days before export.
The Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) and Riding Mountain-area producers have been fighting for the change for years.
The change rolls back U.S. federal requirements introduced in 2002 after a rash of bovine tuberculosis cases near Riding Mountain National Park during the late ’90s and early 2000s. The next year, Canada announced the Riding Mountain Tuberculosis Eradication Area, including new regulations on tracking and animal movement in the area around the national park.
Cattle for slaughter, spayed heifers and steers and calves between five days and four weeks old were already exempt from testing requirements before the July 1 change.
“If you’re in that business, it’s a huge part of your operation. But in terms of total numbers, the export of breeding cattle to the U.S. has never been a huge part of the national business, let alone the Manitoba business,” MBP general manager Brian Lemon said. “For individual producers in the area, it’s going to be significant to their bottom line. To the rest of Manitoba, it’s significant for what it means, and it means that we’ve done the work that we needed to do and were able to stand up and tell the world that we are free from TB.”
MBP originally hoped to see Manitoba classified TB free by 2021.
According to Allan Preston, MBP tuberculosis co-ordinator, the province has not had a domestic cattle case since 2008.
The years after Manitoba’s TB status downgrade saw new support programs for producers near Riding Mountain National Park. Farmers were told to limit contact between their herds and wildlife that might carry the disease and to protect their feed from contamination, with the promise of provincial funding to help offset that investment.
The province says those programs will continue, despite changes from the USDA.
“Canada, Manitoba, and the industry have demonstrated to the USDA that the domestic cattle and cervid herd in the Riding Mountain Eradication Area is free of bovine tuberculosis,” a Manitoba Agriculture spokesperson said. “This work will continue. Risk mitigation activities such as barrier fencing, guardian dogs, and on-farm risk assessments will be continued to help limit interaction between the Manitoba domestic herd and the wildlife population. These activities will also encourage linkages between premises identification and livestock identification for producers in the area to support surveillance at abattoirs.”
MBP has also turned to wildlife testing through Manitoba Sustainable Development for its lobby efforts. The program requires all deer and elk hunted within the eradication area to be tested, plus live capture results.
As of 2016, the testing program had not found a positive result in deer since 2009 and the last elk tested positive in 2014, although there was concern last year that decreased hunting numbers might threaten the usefulness of program data.
It is Lemon’s hope that the provincial support will continue, despite the end to federal U.S. test requirements. He argued that both continued financial support and wildlife testing will be important if Manitoba is to maintain its new TB status.
“We don’t want to be naive about this and we don’t want to necessarily turn our back and undo a lot of the good work that these producers have done over the last 20 years,” Lemon said.
“They certainly recognize the risks and recognize the costs and they’ve done what they’ve needed to do to make sure that they could put this behind them,” he added. “I think it’s about helping them to understand where the risks are and working with them on an individual basis and doing on-farm risk assessments so that producers are able to both manage their operations, but also manage them in such a way that mitigates those risks that are unnecessary.”
Lemon also noted the bovine tuberculosis outbreak in Alberta last year, which ended with $39 million in compensation payments from the CFIA.
State by state
The industry may have cleared the last federal hurdle south of the border, but individual states may still have their own import requirements.
Lemon argues that the federal change removes a trade disadvantage, despite state-specific requirements.
“Depending on what state you’re exporting to, you still may be required to have a bovine tuberculosis test done,” he said. “But it won’t be because your animals came from Manitoba. It will because your animals are going to a specific state. So that puts us back on a level playing field with everybody else.”
Manitoba Agriculture says it is, “collaborating with individual state trading partners as much as possible, including ongoing discussions around disease management and prevention activities.”
“Several states will maintain broad, long-standing TB testing requirements for imports from any other state or province. The province will follow up with states that have existing TB testing requirements for Manitoba cattle imports,” the department said in an emailed statement.