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Federal MPs Criticize NFU

The Standing Committee on Agriculture was meeting with livestock groups recently. The following is excerpts from exchanges between Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, Wild Rose MP Blake Richards, and Ontario National Farmers Union representative Grant Robertson over trade in the context of recent meetings attended by 14 livestock producer groups from the U. S., Mexico and Canada that included the NFU and the Montana-based R-CALF (Ranchers, Cattleman Action Legal Fund).

R-CALF, a group that has repeatedly attempted to keep the Canada-U. S. border closed to live cattle, published a post-meeting release saying the two groups had agreed to become allies, a statement the NFU has denied. Hoback put out a press release lambasting the NFU following this exchange at the committee hearing.

Randy Hoback (MP-Prince Albert): Thank you, Chair. I’ve been sitting here digesting everything that’s been said …One thing I want to get clarified – is Jan Slomp quoted as saying, “I totally understand and defend R-CALF in public now and we need to be allied with R-CALF?” Is he a representative of the NFU and did he say that?

Grant Robertson (NFU): What they are talking about is on captive supply –

Randy Hoback: I’m not asking what they’re talking about. I’m asking did he say that?

Grant Robertson: On captive supply he said that there can be some work together.

Randy Hoback: No, no. Again, did he say that?

Grant Robertson: On captive supply he said there could be some work together. That, as we as Canadians move forward to try and get a handle on captive supply that R-CALF won’t be a problem like they have been on many other issues.

Randy Hoback: Okay.

What has been reported and what has been quoted by R-CALF is not anything on captive supply. It’s very blunt that you’re aligning with R-CALF and by doing that you’ve given credibility to an organization that we say has no credibility. You’ve actually undermined our position with COOL in the U. S. You did it at such a time that things were sensitive. The damage you’ve done to the western Canadian industry is huge. The damage you’ve done to the Canadian industry is huge. That is what Bezan was getting at.

I don’t think he’s questioning your patriotism or anything else. I just want you to realize when you go about doing things as careless as that, they have consequences and the consequences could cost more than $40 a head or $100 a head, it costs $200 a head, $500 a head.

Grant Robertson: Maybe you should engage in a little less careless reading then because the release…

Randy Hoback: What am I supposed to be reading…

Grant Robertson: …from R-CALF is specifically talking about captive supply. That’s what it says in the release – that it is around the issue. Those people during the conference, not to R-CALF, expressed surprise that R-CALF might actually not get in the way of something we want to do for our industry in Canada. That’s the reality.

You can spin it every way you want but you’ve got people across this country who are going to lose their farms and you want to play political games.

Randy Hoback: Actually, Robertson, I take exception to you saying I’m playing political games. I am playing on behalf of my farmers in my riding and they need help.

***

Blake Richards (MP-Wild Rose, Alberta): I’ve got a question for the NFU as well. I have a little difficulty with one of your positions that you seem to have put forward, and it’s with the interest of modern-day business and a global marketplace in mind. There was a report that we’ve reviewed here that you put out, and there was a comment made in that about concern over the penance on export markets. I think it’s very clear, and Shipley alluded to this earlier, that I don’t think all the products that can be derived from our livestock are not necessarily all marketable in our own country. For example, I enjoy nothing better than sitting down to a nice Alberta beef steak, but I wouldn’t necessarily be so receptive to a plate of beef tongue or offals. That’s just my personal preference and my taste. Yet there are markets that we know of, and there are some pretty large and lucrative markets where those same kind of products are considered delicacies, and they’re willing to pay a good price for them.

It seems to me that your position is almost that the farmers should forgo those additional opportunities to get extra value from their products, so they don’t become overdependent on these markets.

I know we can make a profit from these markets, and you’re saying that you believe that as well. But you’re saying that we should just simply pass those opportunities up because something could harm our ability to make a profit. So, we’re saying that we don’t want to sell the product to someone even though we know they’re willing to pay a premium and even though we know it could help our farmers.

Could you maybe explain to us this concern of overdependency in foreign markets, even though we can clearly see that there’s an opportunity there for added value for our farmers on these products?

Grant Robertson: The National Farmers’ Union is a pro-export organization. We understand that we need to export our products to be able to make a good living. What we mean by overdependence is that we have placed ourselves in a situation where we are now dependent almost entirely on, or at least too much, on the American market, and we’ve lost opportunities around the world by doing some of the things that we do here that keeps us captured in the North American market. We’re losing some of the most lucrative markets in the world around hormones, BSE testing, and other things like that.

We just think we need to move forward on those kinds of things so that we can capture those kinds of export markets, but we also can’t put all of our eggs in one basket. While we’ve been chasing and trying to get export markets, we’ve lost a lot of our own markets to ourselves, and we think we need to balance that a little bit more and put some focus on regaining and recapturing our own markets.

Canadians love Canadian beef. As bad as BSE was, it could have been worse – as hard as that is to imagine – if Canadians hadn’t been so supportive, through their mouths and stomachs, of the Canadian cattle industry. They know that this is good-quality product, done to the best health standards in the world, and yet we’re losing our own markets to offshore competition, among others.

We’ve placed all of our eggs in this export basket … We’ve actually lost on income for farmers, so we export and it’s not coming back. What we’re suggesting is just rejigging that balance a little bit. We’re not saying that we should get rid of exports or that we won’t primarily be exporters. We’re just saying that we need to make sure that we have our own ducks in order in our own country and that we’re getting as much as possible of our own markets – a high-value market that has a lot of money in it – to make sure it’s returning to farmers. Then let’s go out and try and get every market around the world we can. Right now we’re blocking ourselves from marketed opportunities because of the way that we’ve addressed some of the issues in our own beef system here in Canada.

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