“The politics of market access often demand ministerial intervention to get over the hurdles presented.”
The federal government is making $6 million available to boost research on beef cattle nutrition and productivity, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association March 22.
The research will encourage “Canadian breakthroughs that make the farm gate more profitable,” he told the CCA annual meeting. The goal is to make the Canadian industry becomes better able to “tap new market opportunities making them more productive and more competitive.”
CCA president Bud Wildeman welcomed the investment as a step towards a collaborative research plan that delivers real results to cattle producers. The CCA will contribute an additional $1.2 million to the research project while the provinces will kick in nearly $464,000.
Under the research cluster approach, scientists at universities and colleges across the country will have their projects supported. CCA will create an expert advisory group to oversee projects that will also include work to enhance beef quality and food safety as well as make beef production more sustainable.
“The long-term sustainability of our industry depends on research that focuses on competitiveness issues like reducing production costs and increasing feed efficiencies, and all those things only occur by investing in worthwhile research,” Wildeman added.
Ritz said the beef industry is important to the Canadian economy, contributing nearly $25 billion annually and is the largest source of farm cash receipts. Canada is the fourth-largest cattle and beef exporter in the world, representing 11 per cent of global exports in 2008.
While the CCA was in town, vice-president Travis Toews told the Commons agriculture committee that $75 million in financial assistance in the budget for beef processors will help cattlemen. Beef farmers are concerned about “losing more processing capacity in Canada, and, once again, becoming dependent on U. S. processors, such as we were in 2003, when we discovered BSE.”
Packers will be eligible for $25 million in assistance to tide them over until they are on a level regulatory playing field with their American rivals, he said.
Packers need to be able to handle over 30-months-of-age cattle so jobs and investment remain in Canada and they gain the ability to outbid U. S. buyers.”
He told Frank Valeriote, Liberal farm spokesman, that a competitive packing sector will be able to pay more for Canadian animals. Subsidies to farmers won’t “accomplish the goal of keeping the processing capacity in Canada, because U. S. processors will continue to have the same advantage that they’ve had before this budget on outbidding Canadian processors for those live cattle.”
A $40-million component of the $70-million package will help processors adopt new technology for handling BSErisk material. John Masswohl, CCA’s director of Government and International Relations, said Canadian packers have about 58 kilograms of BSE risk material left over from every OTM animal because of federal regulations. “In the United States, it’s one pound per animal. So we have two objectives here. One is to get the volume of material closer to the U. S. and the other is to find a marketable purpose for the material we can’t eliminate.”
The cattle industry is currently in discussions with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on bringing its BSE risk material regulations in line with the American ones, he added. Since the risk material regulations were developed in 2007, CCA has been working to bring them closer to the U. S. rules. Canadian packers face an extra $32 an animal in costs when processing OTM cattle.
Toews said that in addition to large packers, “we shouldn’t forget that there are hundreds of small, important provincially inspected facilities located in rural locations all across the country. And the amount of SRM-treated waste coming from these facilities is easily double that of the federal facilities per head, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the weight of the animal.”
The impact of the difference in rules is apparent across the country, he continued. “We’ve already seen consequences in every province, with packers either closing their doors completely or changing their policy regarding the cow kill. The assistance in the federal budget should help to reverse this trend.”
Toews lauded Ritz for “a very ambitious and, quite frankly, unenviable travel schedule” on behalf of Canada’s beef and other agriculture goods producers. “The politics of market access often demand ministerial intervention to get over the hurdles presented. It takes a great deal of departmental work to set these meetings up, and we would like to see all parties support these initiatives as they are critical to the future viability of our industry.”