CALGARY, Alta. - May 18, 2003 is a date that no Canadian cattle hauler or rancher will forget. It's the day the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) discovered a cow from an Alberta farm tested posi...
BACK TO WORK: Cross-border cattle haulers began shipping cattle back into the U.S. July 18. As of press time about 25,000 cattle had been shipped south. The CFIA reported no major problems had occurred.
CALGARY, Alta. – May 18, 2003 is a date that no Canadian cattle hauler or rancher will forget. It’s the day the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) discovered a cow from an Alberta farm tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). But now there’s another equally significant date to remember.
July 18, 2005 will be remembered, for years to come, as the day the first live Canadian cattle were loaded onto a cattleliner and shipped across the border at Lewiston, N.Y. since the ban. The load of 35 black angus fat cattle were trucked into the U.S. by Elmwood, Ont.-based Schaus Land and Cattle, just days after a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It was smooth sailing,” Schaus dispatcher and truck owner James Duncan told Truck News following the first shipment of cattle to a Pennsylvania packing plant.
“Everyone’s happy and ready to start making money again.”
Schaus Land and Cattle, like many other cattle trucking companies, has been decimated by the U.S. ban on Canadian cattle. What was once a thriving 18-truck operation has dwindled to a mere six trucks since the ban was imposed in May, 2003. The company used to ship between 70,000 and 80,000 head of cattle across the border each year prior to the ban.
Now that the border has re-opened, cattle carriers are scrambling to find drivers and equipment. Many drivers left the cattle hauling business altogether and some carriers were forced to sell off tractors and ‘liners. Canadian cattle producers expressed concern there wouldn’t be enough drivers to ship their cattle to U.S. processing plants, but so far it appears a much-anticipated deluge of cattle flowing south has yet to materialize. Betsy Sharples, head of the Ontario Trucking Association’s Livestock Transporters’ Division, says shipment volumes may never return to pre-BSE levels.
“The volume going across won’t be the same as before the border closed,” she suggests. “I think there’ll be a gradual ramping up in terms of numbers and carriers will need that grace period because in some cases they had to lay off drivers.”
She says the Canadian cattle industry has vowed to reduce its dependency on the U.S. marketplace as a result of the beef ban, which cost the industry about $5.7 billion.
“We’re never going to get caught like that again,” says Sharples.
It’s a view that’s echoed by the Canada Beef Export Federation. The group’s Ted Haney recently told the Calgary Herald that “Our industry is intent on eliminating our dependency on trade in live cattle and, on a net basis, process all cattle produced in Canada. We’ll still export cattle, and we’ll import cattle, depending on availability of feed and competitiveness of individual packers’ ability to generate value, but that dependency will drop to near zero.”
He added Canadian packing plants are currently operating at less than capacity and have the ability to process 4.4 million head of cattle per year.
So far, the few trucks that have crossed into the U.S. have reported no problems, even though the process is far more complex than it was prior to May, 2003. The CFIA told Truck News no trucks had been refused entry as of press time, and Sharples also hadn’t heard of any problems from the OTA’s 60-70 cattle carriers.
“We usually hear from the carriers when something has gone wrong,” Sharples says. “No news is good news.”
Cindy McCreath, communications manager with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, also said the group hasn’t yet heard any horror stories from producers or carriers.
“The reports we’re getting back is that while it’s time consuming (to prepare U.S.-bound loads), it’s going relatively smoothly,” she told Truck News.
Cattle haulers must be aware of some new requirements before heading south with a load of cattle. Each load requires an export certificate, issued by a CFIA-accredited veterinarian. In order to qualify for an export certificate, cattle destined for the U.S. must be proven to be under 30 months of age, cannot be pregnant and must also be free of any communicable diseases.
The cattle must also be identified with official Canadian ear tags and a permanent CAN marking on the right hip.
Once they’re loaded, the ‘liner must be sealed by an accredited veterinarian and the driver must ensure that trailer remains sealed until it reaches its destination. Otherwise, USDA officials warn the load will be denied entry. This is a key point, since politicians from some border states (notably Montana) have said they plan to inspect any load travelling through their jurisdiction. The USDA has said doing so would be illegal since the seals cannot be removed.
Jim Ryan, an Alberta-based cattle hauler, has sent several trucks south of the border without incident. But he says the process of testing cattle and preparing them for the trip is costing producers about $13-$15 per head.
Shippers must also be prepared to shell out higher rates as cattle haulers return to work, warns Duncan.
“There’s most definitely going to be rate increases,” Duncan says. “We need to get the rates up and the fuel surcharge up.”
Sharples agrees carriers will have to ramp up rates.
“I can’t imagine how there would not be rate increases just given the price of fuel now,” says Sharples. “And there are more procedures and protocols they have to follow so the USDA can remain confident only cattle under 30 months of age are being sent,” she adds.
While Canadian officials are confident the latest court ruling means a permanent end to the cattle ban, some U.S. protectionist groups are vowing they will continue their campaign to permanently ban Canadian cows.
The best-known of these groups is R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America. Following the announcement that trade could resume between Canada and the U.S., the controversial lobby group announced: “Despite the 9th Circuit decision eliminating the preliminary injunction that had protected the U.S. from immediate imports of Canadian cattle, we remain confident that USDA’s final rule on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the establishment of ‘minimal risk regions’ is premature and does not adequately protect the U.S. cattle industry from the risks of introducing the disease from BSE-affected countries…We are now looking at the best strategy to move forward to strengthen the United States’ resistance to BSE, and this case is far from over. The 9th Circuit judges did not have all the facts before them when they reached the decision to reopen the Canadian border to live cattle.”
In the meantime, Sharples says the OTA is “keeping its fingers crossed.”
“The legal battle still continues in the U.S.,” she says, adding some U.S. groups are now claiming government subsidies paid to Canadian producers during the ban violate the Free Trade Act. “That’s just been filed now, so we still have to wait and see where that’s going to go. There are those groups in the U.S. who would still like to see the border closed, so the legal debacle continues.”