Bill scares stock haulers

by James Menzies

CALGARY, Alta. – Westerners were finally getting to their feet and dusting themselves off after the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. left many of them jobless.

But now a new trade dispute threatens to deal another crippling blow to the region’s truck drivers.

This time, livestock haulers could be the ones who are caught in the middle, when the U.S. implements a controversial country of origin labelling bill included in the Farm Security Act.

The new law, which has been approved by the U.S. Senate and appears to be gaining momentum, would require the separate labelling and processing of all imported beef, pork and lamb.

That would require American slaughterhouses, supermarkets and retailers to absorb a huge cost and administrative burden if they wish to continue stocking Canadian meat.

“Rather than go through all this extra cost, distributors will say that for such a small amount the simplest thing to do is simply not to sell it,” explains Dennis Laycraft, who is the executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) – one of the groups spearheading the fight against labels.

That could be devastating for Canadian farmers and livestock haulers, considering that $5 billion in Canadian exports, including 40 per cent of the Canadian cattle industry would be affected.

About $1.5 billion in pork is also trucked south of the border, as the U.S. relies heavily on Canada for feeder pigs.

Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), says the impact of the legislation could certainly affect livestock haulers.

“It could have a big effect on those who haul feeder animals as well as finished animals,” says Rice.

While the CCA and CPC are busy working with the Canadian embassy in Washington to lobby against the bill, a number of U.S organizations are also coming on side.

“The retail sector in the U.S. is adamantly opposed to these provisions because it does put on them an unwelcome regulatory cost,” says Rice.

“There’s no reason for them from a food safety point of view, to have to differentiate the product,” adds the pork guru.

There is also concern south of the border that if President George W. Bush puts his signature to the bill, it could set a precedent that would see other countries follow suit.

That could hurt U.S. producers who rely heavily on exports to countries such as Canada, Australia and Asia.

And it comes at a time when the international food industry has been striving to prevent discriminating against meat from different countries.

Rice points out that even the most ardent supporters of country of origin labelling have some problems with the latest bill.

“A lot of the groups that have been favoring country of origin labelling don’t see this as workable,” says Rice.

“They don’t really want to cut themselves off from buying feeder animals from Canada and then finishing them in the United States, but this would make it necessary to keep those animals segregated right through their growth, delivery and processing,” he concludes.

In order to be exempt from the labelling, animals must be fully American: born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

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