Truck News


Canadian Beef Begins Trek Across U.S. Border

CALGARY, Alta. - After being locked out of the U.S. market for more than three months, the first truck carrying Canadian beef crossed the border Sept. 4.But politicians and cattle industry insiders ar...

CALGARY, Alta. – After being locked out of the U.S. market for more than three months, the first truck carrying Canadian beef crossed the border Sept. 4.

But politicians and cattle industry insiders are still speculating as to exactly how long it will be before the ban is lifted on live cattle. Estimates (as of Truck News press time) ranged from six months (according to industry insiders) to seven years (according to one Canadian Alliance MP).

Canadian Alliance MP Peter Goldring (Edmonton Centre East) weighed in at the far end of the scale. “Apparently there is an understanding that the border’s going to be closed for seven years,” he says. “And that’s just ridiculous.”

Asked to elaborate, Goldring said: “We have closed borders to other countries and those borders have remained closed for seven years, so if we don’t open up other countries borders for seven years, then they’ll probably insist our border be closed for seven years. It’s kind of been decided internationally from what I understand, that England is closed for seven years, Japan is closed for seven years, so when our border gets closed for the same type of disease it would probably be for seven years. If this is the argument that’s being made by other foreign governments, then why should it be any different for Canada?”

Goldring has been using the ongoing ban as an opportunity to blast the federal government for not doing enough to convince the U.S. to re-open its border to Canadian cattle.

He spoke to Truck News while on a cross-country crusade to raise awareness of the plight of cattle farmers and haulers, a trek that was slated to bring a cattleliner from Vancouver to Parliament Hill in Ottawa by Sept. 17.

But while cattle industry insiders may appreciate Goldring’s devotion to raising awareness of the ban’s effects, they also feel he’s exaggerating about how long it could last.

Cindy McCreath, communications manager with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, pointed to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman’s Aug. 8 announcement promising an “expedited rulemaking process” to allow young Canadian cattle into the U.S. It generally takes six to 18 months for the U.S. to approve a new regulation, said McCreath.

“She said they were expediting that process,” said McCreath. “We don’t know yet when live cattle may start moving, but we do know she more or less said it would be sooner than six months. Hopefully it will be within the next five months at the longest.”

In the meantime, things are looking up, if only slightly.

The first shipment carrying beef into the U.S. since the May 20 ban was a truck pulling a reefer carrying veal from Ontario to New York.

It signified what the Canadian cattle and trucking industries hope is the beginning of the end for the ban on Canadian beef, even if, in addition to live cattle, a number of other cuts of beef remain under the ban.

But in Alberta, the province hit hardest by the beef ban, it took longer for beef to make its way back across the U.S. border.

“I’m still waiting for that first carrier to give me a call and tell me they were allowed into the U.S.,” said Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) executive director Kim Royal.

That first call came Sept. 10, when TransX delivered a load of beef from Lakeside Packers destined for an undisclosed U.S. location.

Meanwhile, talks about the necessity of a major cull continued. As Truck News was going to press, it was expected 300,000 cattle would be killed off by November.

The industry was still hoping it could find some use for the meat.

“We feel quite confident if we work together and work through this we can have a beneficial usage,” said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association.

“Our intent is to have all of those cows used either commercially or as food aid.”

In the meantime, Royal said, livestock carriers would benefit somewhat from the movement of the limited amount of beef allowed into the U.S., since that results in increased domestic traffic to slaughterhouses. But it’s still not enough to sustain the industry for any length of time, he pointed out.

“It’s just enough to keep people from going bankrupt just a little bit longer,” Royal said.

Just how much longer is the question on every hauler’s mind.

Much depends on circumstances well beyond their control – namely international relations.

At press time, Japan continued to threaten the U.S. over lifting the ban, saying if the States accepted live Canadian cattle, than the U.S. would run the risk of having its own beef banned by Japan.

And on Sept. 2, Japan’s Agriculture Minister insisted Japan will only lift its own ban if Canada agrees to test every single cow for BSE.

While it may seem like a tall order, Japan itself tests every cow it slaughters for mad cow disease, and has done so since 2001 when it experienced its own mad cow scare.

And a host of research teams in Canada and the U.S. are currently racing to develop a test that can detect the disease in live animals. That’s good news, according to Royal.

“We’ve said all along that if there was just a simple way that you could test the animals, it would be so much easier,” Royal said.

Meanwhile, the ban continued to take its toll, and efforts to draw attention to the plight of cattle haulers and farmers are growing stronger.

– With files from Canadian Press

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