Slaughter loan forms available by month-end

The $50 million slaughterhouse improvement program pledged in the last federal budget will have application forms available by the end of June, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Friday.

Finance Minster Jim Flaherty’s “Economic Action Plan” in January outlined a three-year, $50 million program to “make federal contributions available to match private sector investments in sound business plans.”

That program, Flaherty wrote, would be “aimed at reducing costs, increasing revenues and improving operations of meat slaughter and processing operations in Canada.”

But the program outlined Friday, for which further details are expected in “coming weeks,” now pledges the $50 million to “federal repayable contributions available to support investments made by the private sector and other levels of government.”

“By improving processing, we’re helping to help create a greater demand for livestock and better prices for farmers,” Ritz said Friday.

In the same release Friday, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the minister of state for agriculture, said the program will be “addressing regional gaps in this sector by providing new marketing options and lower transportation costs in areas where limited access to meat packing and processing facilities is affecting the growth of the sector.”

The government said Friday that the plan will support the livestock sector by “making meat packing and processing facilities more competitive and accessible to farmers across the country.”

Meat processing is responsible for $20.5 billion in annual sales for Canadian livestock producers, the government said.

Groups such as the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council and Canadian Meat Council have previously said the $50 million in the budget for this program should be used to support existing slaughter and packing plants rather than new capacity.

Not all groups agree: the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council previously said it hoped the funds wouldn’t flow to the “overdeveloped” beef industries in Alberta and Ontario but would instead be used to develop new capacity in Manitoba. BSE-related border closures of years past hit the province’s cattle producers hard in the absence of any nearby federally-inspected slaughter space.

And the National Farmers Union contended in January that there was “no provision to ensure these funds do not simply end up in the pockets of Cargill, Tyson and XL, the big three packing companies which together control over 80 per cent of Canada’s beef processing facilities.”

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