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MBP Votes Thumbs Down On MCEC Checkoff

Co-operator staff / brandon

The Manitoba Beef Producers has given a thumbs down on the $2-per-head voluntary checkoff for the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council.

A resolution to eliminate the checkoff aimed at supporting beef slaughter capacity in the province was passed by a narrow margin of 24-21 after a vigorous debate at the recent MBP annual general meeting.

The province of Manitoba started this tax on all of our cattle and it s been over five years now, said Don Winnicky, director for MBP District 4. He added that arguments in favour of keeping the checkoff were mostly smoke and mirrors.

I m tired of paying this tax on my cows. There s absolutely nothing to show for it except for an empty parking lot.

In defence of the checkoff, Fred Tait pointed out that it is voluntary, and any seller of cattle can request that it be refunded. He added that the funding pool has helped a number of smaller provincially licensed abattoirs and processing plants get off the ground or improve their operations.

There s also the side benefit that for every dollar that the producer puts in, the province matches it, said Tait.

Tait said the recent withdrawal of $10 million in federal funding for the Winnipeg beef slaughter plant was done for political reasons.

I see the opposition to this effort… as more political than practical.

Chuck Gall, who has served on the MCEC board for two years, said that the checkoff represents a commitment on the part of government and industry to prevent the chaos that came after the first reported case of BSE in 2003 slammed virtually all borders shut.

To send a beef animal from Moosehorn to High Level, Alberta costs roughly $100. I need that $100 and you need that $100, said Gall.

Let s let the farmers decide if they want to leave their money in the levy or not.

Gaylene Dutchyshen, vice-chair of the MCEC board, said that proof of widespread support for the voluntary checkoff can be found in the fact that 60 to 70 per cent of all beef producers leave their money in the program instead of requesting a refund.

This small number of people in this room cannot speak for the larger number of people who are in support of the council and probably the idea of a public packing plant, she said.

Glen Metner said that when he started in the cattle business in the 1980s, gas was 32 cents a litre, and 500-pound steers brought $1.10.

There was lots of money to be made in this business, he said. I had 18 slaughter plants to sell my livestock to. The year that Cargill moved into Alberta, I have seen my net profit fall every year since then.

Metner added that the checkoff to support the MBP is voluntary too.

If you get enough people mad, you might have people taking their money out of here, he said.

Larry Clifford said that he doubted a small plant would ever be able to compete with the big packers without continued infusions of public money, noting that virtually all of the emotional ventures that came after 2003 have failed.

I believe that a regional plant would be advantageous to this province if it could survive, he said. Unless there s some strong subsidization coming, I just have my doubts.

Betty Green said she was afraid that the fact that the provincial cattle herd has fallen dramatically in recent years makes a small regional plant non-viable.

If you take a look at the MCEC budgets, 30 to 40 per cent of its budget is going to administration, she said. For that reason, I can t support it.

Gall defended the MCEC s administration expenditures, saying that much of the organization s current work is helping businesses assemble paperwork such as business plans and environmental applications.

That eats up a lot of our money, he said. If calves go to $2 per pound, the $2 checkoff is peanuts.

Joe Bouchard said that he was in favour of freedom of choice, but that debate at the MBP level on the MCEC checkoff was moot.

If this passes, does anyone really think that the government is going to get rid of the council?

A second opposing resolution, which called on the MBP to not take a position against the MCEC checkoff, was defeated.

Also, two other resolutions proposing that the checkoff funds be diverted to create a cattle insurance program to protect beef producers in the event of a dealer bankruptcy, or to fund a mustering fee for TB testing in the Riding Mountain National Park area, were defeated.

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