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Editor’s Comment: Cattle ban may end, but who’s celebrating?

The cattle ban is ending! Cattle haulers: Break out the party hats! Crack open the champagne! Who's ready to party? Anyone? Anyone? Umm...okay, maybe not.


The cattle ban is ending! Cattle haulers: Break out the party hats! Crack open the champagne! Who’s ready to party? Anyone? Anyone? Umm…okay, maybe not.

While it’s definitely encouraging to see the U.S. has finally agreed to accept live Canadian cattle beginning in March, there’s still little reason to celebrate for livestock haulers. Even IF the latest discovery of a case of mad cow disease doesn’t cause the U.S. to retract its decision to re-open the border, there are still plenty of other wrenches that could be stuck in the spokes at the last moment.

As Kim Royal, former executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) says: “We are not out of the woods yet as there will be a move by U.S. protectionist groups to get an injunction to keep the border closed to Canadian cattle.”

This comment was made even before the latest Canadian mad cow case surfaced in early January.

The timing of the latest case of BSE was somewhat predictable given the cloud of bad luck that’s been hanging over the industry since May, 2003.

In fact, the timing of the incident would be almost comical if the livelihoods of so many people weren’t at stake. How can any one industry face such lousy luck?

Cattle producers and transporters can hardly be blamed for greeting the U.S. promise to re-open its border with more skepticism than enthusiasm. Fortunately, it’s still possible the U.S. will forge ahead with the re-opening of the border despite the latest case of BSE. That’s definitely encouraging, as many in the industry were justifiably concerned that the latest incident would provide the ammunition required by the protectionist contingent of the U.S. public, industry and politico-types. Only time will tell whether this is the case.

I’m no scientist, but I think it’s safe to say BSE isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

In fact, there may be more cases discovered in coming years as a result of the increased vigilance on the part of food inspectors to weed these cattle out before they enter the food chain. If the rate of reported BSE-infected cattle increases, does that mean the disease has become more prevalent?

I highly doubt it. I interpret it to mean the system is working and more infected cattle are being identified and properly dealt with than in the past.

Hopefully our neighbours to the south understand this and don’t act irrationally every time a new BSE case hits the news.

As for cattle haulers, one can’t blame them for being reluctant to ramp up their capacity to pre-BSE levels just yet. Most have lost roughly half of their drivers and equipment during the 20-month ban and admit they’ll be unable to meet the demand for some time.

Drivers who’ve left the cattle hauling business are reportedly reluctant to return after finding employment in more stable sectors of the trucking industry.

Despite all the questions that still surround the future of this turbulent business, hopefully 2005 will be kinder to those who transport cattle. If anyone deserves a break this year, it’s Western Canadian beef producers and transporters.

– James Menzies can be reached by phone at 403-275-3160 or by e-mail at jamesmenzies@shaw.ca.


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