Late last month the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association published a political wish list on behalf of the beef industry for candidates running in the federal election. You can find it on the CCA website.
The week before that document came out I had a chance to hear some of the background discussions that went into setting it at the CCA’s semi-annual meeting in Winnipeg.
This business meeting provides an opportunity for producer directors from across the country, and the public, to get a fresh update on the latest issues vexing the industry. It’s a large list but a few things stood out for me.
One is the lack of progress on the national traceability program that continues to stumble toward a government-imposed deadline of July 2016. It’s hard to see how they will meet that date. As of last month the national industry, with the exception of Quebec, was still at loggerheads with the feds, specifically the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The industry keeps insisting it will comply with the Cattle Implementation Plan agreed to in 2011, but it seems the feds keep looking for more. As one delegate involved in the discussions explained it, “CFIA still wants to scan everything, everywhere… and the technology is not there to do that.”
The bug in that argument, of course, is that it is possible in Quebec where Agri-Tracabilité Québec (ATQ) tracks animals from birth to slaughter and every step in between. Of course ATQ is dealing with much smaller numbers within a tightly controlled environment. To implement such a system in the rest of the country is seen as both impractical and prohibitively expensive.
As a result, CFIA’s plan to merge the databases of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) and ATQ under a new Ottawa-based agency TraceCanada has run into “legal” snags, as well. If TraceCanada cannot provided database services in an economical manner, meaning for less than CCIA can do it for, the CCIA board is confident it can generate the revenues necessary to maintain this service for the rest of the country.
The feeling around the committee table was that the CFIA will come around to the industry’s view if all sectors remain unified in their opposition to Ottawa’s plan.
Another hot topic was the Western Price Insurance Program. Everyone from the West around the table agrees it is a valuable risk management tool. Any concerns they have rest with the declining number of contracts taken out this year because of the high prices, and whether federal budget slashers will take this as a sign that the pilot program is losing support.
It was an easy decision for the CCA to put the need for a permanent insurance program on its wish list, but there was a general feeling that more needs to be done to convince people of the stability of locking in profits on calves at the start of the year, even in times of high prices. It also provides young producers with something to take to their banker to get a loan for more cows.
The discussion got a little more heated when the Ontario delegation asked for the CCA to lobby the feds for support of its own provincial Beef Cattle Protection plan. Price insurance was sold to the feds as a national plan with the western version being a pilot to test it out, so offering up support for an Ontario plan might raise concerns about how Ottawa bureaucrats might view a permanent western plan.
Nonetheless, the Ontario group won out and CCA’s platform put to the candidates calls on Ottawa to contribute to each jurisdiction’s existing livestock insurance plan, “in the absence of a single sufficiently funded national program.” The CCA is also encouraging the new government to enhance loan guarantees of existing feeder and breeder programs across the country to keep up with the rising price of cattle.
Low numbers on the national BSE surveillance plan raised another red flag. Canada agreed to test 30,000 high-risk cattle per year to maintain its current disease status at the World Organization for Animal Health. Last year we tested 27,600 and since May this year’s monthly totals have been dropping below the level needed to reach that 30,000 target. After our 19th case showed up in February, the clock that determines when Canada can apply for a lower BSE status was set back another five years. Expect to see more headlines harping on the need for more testing this fall.
Stable funding for the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program was another issue. Government money was available to produce three new VBP modules on bio-security, animal care and environmental stewardship but none was offered to fund the ongoing operations of the program which operate under the wing of the Beef Cattle Research Council. The provincial wings that deliver the program basically exist on small fees and bits of provincial money. In some cases it’s a volunteer job.
The first two modules could be ready by year-end, but the environmental will have to wait until the industry comes up with a national definition of sustainable beef practices. VBP has done some work on this theme and McDonald’s sustainable beef project will wrap up early next year. At that point the results will be passed to the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef to come up with a standard. VBP is widely expected to deliver the program, including verifications from brand-related programs like McDonald’s.
That’s assuming the CCA can come up with an affordable plan and “sustainable” funding for the program.