Open border for cattle a long way off: CFIA

OTTAWA, (July 25, 2003) — In a rare analysis of the state of the Canadian beef and cattle industries, Francine Lord, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency national manager of imports and exports, said it’s unlikely the U.S. would open the border to live Canadian cattle any time soon.

However, she added that while countries who have banned Canadian cattle still consider it too risky for import, there is a chance borders may reopen for other cow products such as beef, semen and embryos. Lord’s assessment marks one of the first times an agency official has spoken publicly about the impact the mad cow scare will have on the future of Canada’s cattle industry.

“It’s going to take awhile (to get the ban lifted),” the Canadian Press reported Lord as saying. “This (the cattle ban) is going to be the longest one. This is considered the highest risk … We don’t have any tests for live animals. That’s the problem. If we had tests on live animals, it would be easy.”

U.S. borders have been closed to Canadian beef since mid-May when a single eight year-old cow in Alberta was diagnosed with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy — commonly referred to as mad cow disease. Despite a massive investigation which turned up no other cases of the disease in any other cattle, more than 30 countries continue to lock their gates to Canadian beef.

While government and industry stakeholders have been saying that they have been making progress with U.S. authorities recently, a major stumbling block continues to be Japan, which has vowed to block U.S. beef exports if the U.S. reopens its border to Canadian cattle.

The industry has been losing about $11 million a day in export sales alone, and another $7 million a day due to depressed beef prices since the mad cow scare began. When related industries like trucking and feedlots are factored in, the estimated loss of revenue jumps to over $20 million a day. Sales of cattle and calves brought in $7.6 billion last year.

Meanwhile, Alberta Agriculture Minister Shirley McClellan said earlier this week that a mass slaughter is being considered in that province if borders don’t reopen to Canadian beef by October. Manitoba also recently announced it would have to slaughter 500,000 head of cattle — about 40 per cent in the province — if international borders don’t open soon. “If we are to contain ourselves to selling only in Canada we’ll have to dispose of a large portion of the herd,” said Keith Robertson, executive director of the Manitoba Cattle Producers’ Association. “We’re very close to having to make that decision.”

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