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Truckers slam USDA for border meat inspection “chaos”

The perils of cross-border trade were front and centre for truckers and meat shippers a few weeks ago, when an inspection snafu on the American side forced hundreds of trucks on lengthy detours.

On Oct. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) temporarily suspended meat inspections at border entry points opposite Manitoba and Saskatchewan after a dispute erupted with the private company contracted to inspect meat coming into the country.

“You bet it was a mess,” said Terry Shaw, general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association. The crossings at North Portal, Sask. and Emerson were affected for more than a week.

“If they are going to employ outside contractors, and the contractors aren’t going to maintain compliance with USDA standards, then the USDA needs to make alternatives so as to not shut down cross-border commercial trade.”

Shaw said that one major meat packer was spending up to $20,000 per day rerouting 40 to 50 shipments through Montana and Michigan, a detour that added up to 1,200 extra miles to each trip.

A press release from the CTA said that situation spiralled out of control after the company holding the inspection contract was sold. The buyer was then advised by USDA that it needed to apply for a licence extension or a new licence in order to continue providing meat inspections.

“For whatever reason, this appears not to have happened,” the release stated.

“But rather than find an alternative solution — and despite the fact the company’s facilities, staff, inspectors, remained the same as prior to the change in ownership — the USDA instead chose to penalize the company by prohibiting it from providing meat inspection service.”

Bob Dolyniuk, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA), who became aware of the situation after receiving calls from a number of carrier members, said the USDA did not engage another party to conduct the inspections during this period or make any other contingencies; it simply closed the inspections down with no apparent thought to the disruptive and costly impact this would have on trade.

“The USDA didn’t even inform the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency of what was going on. MTA had to do that,” he said in the news release.

“There was a complete communications vacuum,” echoed David Bradley, CEO of the CTA, adding that the move threw cross-border trade into “chaos.”

“From what we can tell USDA didn’t even alert the U.S. meat importers so that contingency plans could be implemented.”

The CTA is asking Federal Minister of International Trade Ed Fast to speak with his counterpart in the United States about ensuring inspectors of Canadian meat product exports are always available at the Canada-U.S. border.

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