At the request of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Executive Committee, nine U.S. cattlemen traveled to Canada last week to get a first-hand account of Canada's beef production systems.
Labeled a "fact-finding mission," the delegation was charged with probing into key issues concerning resumption of trade between the two countries. The NCBA delegation arrived Monday evening, January 17, and returned Thursday evening, January 20. During the intense three-day period, the delegation met with Can-Fax (Canada's independent economic analysis firm), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), visited multiple feed mills and feedlots (including a flyover of Alberta's "feedlot alley" that represents 700,000 head of Southern Alberta's 1.1 to1.2 million head on feed) and toured of one of Alberta's largest beef slaughter facilities and a rendering facility.
The delegation continues to work on the final report, which will be available for members at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention, Feb. 2 — 5, 2005.
"Our task, as directed by the Executive Committee, was to get as many facts as we could to help inform NCBA members' on the situation in Canada. It is important to know that any policies or recommendations in response to these facts will be made by the members. The delegation was not asked to, nor did they choose to take, a position one way or another on the issues related to the USDA rule," says Jamie Willrett, Illinois cow/calf producer and feedlot operator.
While the full report will cover key issues at length, the delegation's key findings include:
- Canadian feedlots appear to be current. There is unused capacity in Southern Alberta feedlots and the number of yearling cattle was low, which is normal for Canadian lots. Cattle older than 30 months are severely discounted (priced as cow beef), and there is no market incentive to manage fed or feeder cattle beyond this age.
- Slaughter capacity has increased in Canada. USDA's estimate on cattle ready for export did not fully account for the 22 percent increase in slaughter capacity in Canada in the 2004 calendar year.
- The Anaplasmosis and Blue Tongue trade issues have been resolved for feeder cattle in 39 states but not for older animals, including breeding cattle. Yet the Canadian government has completed at least two vector studies.
- The Canadian feed industry appears to be in compliance with its feed ban, based on visual inspections and audit reports. The Canadian government is expected to release a study addressing recent media reports about animal protein in animal feed.
- Given the ages of the BSE-positive cattle in Canada, the following exposure hypothesis seems reasonable as a potential explanation for the four cases: exposure to feed produced before the August 1997 Feed Ban. The industry now operates segregated lines or dedicated facilities.
The trade delegation is one of many actions NCBA's Executive Committee called for Jan. 6, 2005. Other actions being taken include:
- Insisting by March 7 trade be re-established with Japan and South Korea and expanded in Mexico through negotiations between the highest levels of government officials.
- Requesting an FDA audit of Canada's compliance with its feed ban.
- Demanding that the United States not import beef from Canadian cattle older than 30 months to prevent a trade imbalance that discriminates against U.S. cow-calf producers.
Insisting USDA clarify the Canadian rule regarding the importation of heifers, age verification and procedures for importation of live cattle.