Situation nearing critical for cattle haulers

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EDMONTON, Alta. — The situation is nearing critical for cross-border cattle haulers, says Kim Royal, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association.

“The situation will become critical in two to three weeks,” he said today.

Lay-offs such as those which began Wednesday at an Edmonton frozen food manufacturer, are not happening in the trucking industry, says Royal.

“Basically, the carriers are losing money because they’re not working to pay for their livestock trailers,” he explained. “The tractors and the drivers can be used to haul other things, but the trailers are livestock only.”

The lay-offs at the Edmonton company came Wednesday as the company lost most of its market to the U.S. ban on Canadian beef.

The Pasta Mill, an Alberta-owned producer of frozen pasta, laid off 100 of 134 employees at its north Edmonton plant.
About 85 per cent of the company’s business consists of exports to the U.S., according to operations manager James Stevens. Beef lasagna has been one of the company’s most popular products.

Meanwhile, the search for the source of the single mad cow disease case is ongoing. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials have promised another 700 cattle will be killed and tested. The cattle come from six farms in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

Culling the herds is being done, in part, to reassure markets that Canada’s beef industry is safe. The new round of testing will bring the total number of animals slaughtered to nearly 1,100.

The CFIA is also awaiting results from tests on 49 animals from another Saskatchewan farm north of Lloydminster, where the infected cow may have lived.

Alberta’s $3.8-billion beef industry has been all but shut down for the past 10 days. Many auction markets have closed and hundreds of workers at packing plants and other businesses have been laid off.

Premier Ralph Klein again called on the federal government Wednesday to waive the two-week waiting period for employment insurance benefits for workers laid off as a result of the crisis, as it did in Toronto during the SARS outbreak.

But federal Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart defended her decision against special consideration for those affected by the mad cow scare. The SARS exemption was for people who couldn’t leave their homes to get to their jobs, she said.

At the Pasta Mill, many workers found out Wednesday they will join the lines of the temporarily unemployed.
Safeway Select, a brand sold at Safeway stores in both the U.S. and Canada, is the Pasta Mill’s most prosperous partnership. Among their other partners are Albertson’s, A&P and BuyLow.

The company is now negotiating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish protocols that would allow it to ship lasagna made with American or Australian beef across the border, said company owner Steve Parsons.

Johnston, president of the Alberta Food Processors Association, said if the U.S. border isn’t soon reopened, more jobs will be jeopardized.

– with files from the Edmonton Journal

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