CALGARY, Alta. — Cattle haulers received a slightly belated Christmas gift yesterday as the U.S. announced it will re-open its border to young Canadian cattle as of March 7.
Live cattle less than 30 months old will be allowed to cross the border as or March 7, as well as beef products from cattle older than 30 months in age. The ban will continue for older live animals and breeding cattle according to a release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It is a major breakthrough that some thought would take many years,” Ted Haney of the Canada Beef Export Federation told Alberta media. He added about 95 per cent of the pre-BSE trade in beef and cattle could be resumed in the new year as a result of the announcement. “Some in the U.S. worked for it; others worked hard to avoid this day."
The U.S. border has been closed to live Canadian cattle for nearly two years ever since a single case of Mad Cow disease surfaced on an Alberta farm in May, 2003. Cattle haulers specializing in transporting animals to the U.S. saw up to 100 per cent of their business disappear and many were forced to haul alternative freight to keep their drivers employed. Many have since gone out of business while others have diversified or survived by scaling back their operations and hauling cattle domestically.
While the U.S. announcement is being greeted with optimism by cattle haulers and beef producers alike, the ban has served as a wake-up call for everyone within the industry.
“This has been a real dose of reality for us,” Arno Doerksen of the Alberta Beef Producers Association told local media. “The Canadian industry needs to understand that we need to diversify our marketing opportunities.”
One alternative being explored is opening more processing plants within Canada so the infrastructure exists within the country to process its own beef.
“We’ll work hard to develop our own packing industry in Canada,” said Clay Serby, deputy premier of Saskatchewan. “We’ve all recognized when you put all your eggs in one basket you can find yourself in a situation like we did here in Canada when the border gets closed to us.”
It’s estimated the beef and cattle ban cost the Canadian cattle industry about $5 billion. While $1.6 billion in aid was provided to producers, none of that assistance was extended to cattle haulers.
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