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News Roundup – for Oct. 4, 2010

POLICY ALBERTA TO REINTRODUCE MANDATORY NATIONAL CHECKOFF

After a summer of intense negotiations the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) and Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Sept. 3 to implement a $1 per head non-refundable levy for national market development, research and promotion programs.

The deal was encouraged and helped along by Alberta’s agriculture minister, Jack Hayden who has hinted for months now that he would like the industry to agree to preserve the national $1. John Kolk, a well-respected feedlot operator and recent chairman of the annual meeting of the ABP acted as facilitator.

The new levy will replace the $1 per head national checkoff (NCO) portion of the $3 Alberta checkoff that was made refundable by Alberta’s Bill 43 on April 1 of this year. The $2 provincial checkoff remains refundable.

The MOA calls for a $1 nonrefundable levy to be implemented through a three-year amendment to the ABP regulation that expires on March 31, 2013. It also sets out conditions under which the levy can be extended beyond this date.

As of September 10, the MOA was in the hands of minister Hayden for approval by the government. The amendments still have to be drafted and approved by the ministry, the ABP and the Alberta Agricultural Products Marketing Council. Both the ABP and ACFA had hoped to see it implemented by the end of October.

The refundable checkoff remains in place until the regulation is passed. The ABP has already refunded a little more than $1 million or 38 per cent of the total checkoff collected from April 1 to June 30 to 393 producers. About half the money went to 11 large lots.

This agreement will make Canada’s levy truly national for the first time since the Canadian Beef Cattle Research, Market Development and Promotion Agency (National Agency) was created in 2002. The last two provinces to finalize the provincial legislation allowing them to begin collecting the $1 per head national levy were Quebec in May, and Prince Edward Island in June of this year.

With all provinces falling into line Canada will be in a position to collect a levy on imported cattle and beef products. ABP says the non-refundable national levy will provide stable and predictable funding for important national and international marketing and research efforts, and enhance the ability of the beef industry to leverage its checkoff dollars against government funds.

Alberta accounts for 65 per cent of Canada’s beef production. The ABP estimates, a refundable NCO in Alberta would have cost the industry close to $20 million per year in lost funding and $22 million in lost economic benefits for producers.

A resolution passed earlier this year at the ACFA’s annual meeting recommended leaving the NCO refundable two years before reviewing the matter. However, in a memo to its members the ACFA says this resolution was never intended to close the door on discussions about a more transparent and accountable national checkoff. After hearing from many of their members in a telephone survey this past summer, the ACFA board revisited the NCO issue and set out criteria that would enable it to sign an agreement.

One Alberta seat on the board of the Canadian Beef Research, Market Development and Promotion Agency that manages the NCO is to be filled by an ACFA representative. The ABP also agreed to work toward putting an ACFA member on the beef working group established this summer to reorganize organizations funded by the national checkoff agency. The committee’s mandate, according to the MOA, is to restructure and consolidate the activities of the agency, the Beef Cattle Research Council, the Beef Information Centre and the Canada Beef Export Federation. Primarily they are looking for ways to merge the latter two organizations into a single marketing arm for the Canadian cattle industry.

ABP and ACFA will jointly review the results of the national programs annually and report their findings to the agriculture minister. In 2013, if everyone is agreeable, the agreement can be extended.

LEGAL TAGGING FINES RESCINDED

After a year of feuding with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over the retention capabilities of RFID ear tags, Macrorie, Sask., veterinarian and cow-calf producer Dr. Ken Habermehl felt vindicated by the September decision of a Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal (CART).

“I am a proud Canadian cattleman,” said Habermehl after being notified by CART chairman Dr. Donald Buckingham that he would not have to pay a fine of $500 for shipping cattle without an authorized RFID tag.

Habermehl’s case began innocently enough in May 2009 when he and his son Craig prepared their cattle for a trip to various community pastures. Each animal was checked as it went through the chute to be sure it carried the appropriate Canadian Cattle Identification Agency electronic tag. On May 26, three loads of 29 cow-calf pairs made the 42-mile trip to the Elbow, Sask. pasture. Habermehl took one load, commercial transporters took the other two.

After the cattle were unloaded into a holding corral a CFIA official at the pasture noticed seven did not have approved tags. So Habermehl drove back to his farm to get more tags and retagged the seven head before his pairs were released into the pasture. Witnesses noted that all the Habermehl cattle delivered to the Coteau Community Pasture the previous day had brands, farm identification tags, CCIA-approved tags and fly tags.

Habermehl never thought much more about this incident until he received a registered letter on September 14, 2009 from CFIA stating that he was in violation of the Health of Animals Regulations after seven of his cows delivered to the Elbow Community Pasture were found to be missing their CCIAapproved tags. The fine was $500.

He refused to pay.

“Some people pay the fine because they are too busy to fight it or maybe they are a little embarrassed. I had time and nothing to lose — all they would get is $500. I knew I couldn’t get cost recovery, therefore, I thought let’s get educated,” Habermehl recalls.

The contested point was the question of whether or not the cows had been tagged before leaving the farm. Habermehl says the tags must have been torn out during the trip to the pasture. Unfortunately, the inspector did not examine the trailers and holding pen for lost tags, nor examine the ears of animals for any signs of tearing or recent tagging.

Over the next several months Habermehl waged something of a social media campaign sending out emails to a growing group of supporters to see if anyone else had been losing RFID tags and sharing his results with Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

After a few more months he was granted a CART hearing on June 15, 2010 in Saskatoon to hear his case. Witnesses such as former auction market operator Roy Rutledge and the Elbow pasture manager agreed to testify about their experiences with RFID tag retention.

“It was a victory just to get this to the courtroom,” Habermehl adds. “I think we got to the problem and it will help a lot of people.”

The problem to his mind is the zero-tolerance policy of Canada’s full traceability system.

In writing up the Tribunal’s ruling Dr. Buckingham acknowledged this concern. “The evidence in this case is that the system that the regulations rely upon or perhaps more accurately, the equipment and technology to support that system, does not establish a permanent and infallible system to track the movements of all bison, cattle and sheep in Canada,” he said.

“Whether the Tribunal accepts the opinion evidence of Rutledge, or the actual case of the seven cows in this case, a not insubstantial problem of RFID (CCIA approved) identification tag failure exposes players in the beef, bison and sheep industry to liability for violations of Part XV of the Health of Animals Regulations.”

“The Tribunal accepts the evidence of Habermehl that he tagged all of his cattle in 2006 with RFID (CCIA approved) identification tags and that again on the weekend of May 22-24, 2009, he did the same even though some cattle tagged in 2006 had to be retagged because they had lost their 2006 tag,” Buckingham states. “If there was human error in the application of the RFID tags during the weekend of May 22-25, 2009, there was no evidence of it presented at the hearing and it is not unimportant to note that Habermehl was a trained professional practitioner of veterinary medicine as well as being an experienced cattleman. On transport day, Habermehl again verified that all cows and calves were ready to leave his farm on May 25-26, 2009 for community pastures. The Agency and its officials were never at the Habermehl farm and there is no evidence which

Helpingrancherslikeyou

The Business School

Regina, SK Nov. 28 contradicts the testimony of Habermehl and his son on this point.”

It was also noted that section 184 of the regulations permits owners or transporters to retag animals before they are co-mingled with other animals when tags are lost in transport and that clearly was done at the Elbow community pasture.

Habermehl represented himself at the hearing with advice from his legal counsel John D. Goudy of the London, Ont., firm, Cohen Highley.

In his analysis of the decision Goudy writes, “The regulatory and monetary penalty system expects perfection from farmers, but the tags are imperfect. Surely there are lawmakers who would agree that a change needs to be made. Just look at the time and money that you and the CFIA will have spent in this process over the issue of seven cows with missing tags that were replaced as soon as humanly possible once they were found to be missing.”

The Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal is an independent, quasi-judicial body established by Parliament to provide independent oversight of federal agencies with the authority to collect fines from the public.

The CART decision re Habermehl is posted on the Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal website at http://cart-crac.gc.ca/CART-CRAC.

POLICY ALBERTA EASES LIMITS FOR DISASTER ASSISTANCE

Larger-and smaller-scale farmers in Alberta will be able to qualify for disaster recovery programs after the province expanded the programs’ eligibility criteria last month.

Retroactive to July 1, the province lifted its maximum assistance limit for all applicants for disaster relief, and expects to also allow more farms and small businesses to qualify by raising the maximum yearly gross revenue ceiling to $15 million from $5 million.

The province had introduced the maximum assistance limit of $300,000 a few months ago, but officials were “concerned that the $300,000 cap could be insufficient to replace damaged property for a small number of residents, small businesses and farms, so we decided to remove the limit entirely.”

Typically, the province said, “residential applications (for disaster relief) are not as large or complex as those for small businesses and farming operations.”

However, it added, “removing the maximum on assistance will (also) benefit those rare residential applicants who have lost everything.”

The province has also lifted a requirement that farmers must get at least 20 per cent of their gross annual income from the farm business. It also removed the restriction that disqualified larger farms employing more than 20 full-time staff for farming operations.

The changes will apply to all “current and future” provincial disaster recovery programs, which are generally meant to assist with uninsurable losses of “essential items” and to help restore property to its “pre-disaster functional condition.”

Current programs include the current Southern Alberta Disaster Recovery Program and all other disaster recovery programs for 2010, such as those previously set up for the County of Vermilion River and the City of Cold Lake. The Southern Alberta program, announced in early July, is the province’s response to severe overland flooding from a series of rainstorms across much of the region in mid-June.

“If there are people who did not apply because they didn’t meet the criteria originally, we encourage them to contact us. If you have applied and were not eligible under the previous guidelines, we will contact you,” the province’s municipal affairs minister Hector Goudreau said in a release.

“As I have said many times, we will keep this program open until all applications are processed,” he said, referring to the Southern Alberta program.

MEAT FEWER COMPLAINTS ABOUT BEEF

The latest survey of how Canadians view their beef suggests the hard work producers have put into raising a quality product in the last decade is having some impact.

The National Beef Quality Satisfaction Survey and Carcass Audit tracked consumer attitudes toward beef in 1995, 2001 and 2009.

In 1995 the survey found one-quarter of Canada’s retail steaks were too tough. This prompted retailers to implement standardized aging protocols. In 2001, a survey assessed demographics, steak preparation and cooking methods, and eating satisfaction among beef consumers. Follow-up studies to determine whether industry had successfully improved consumer satisfaction were planned for 2006, but these plans were derailed until 2009 by BSE.

In 2009 over 1,100 consumers in Montreal, Toronto, London and Calgary were provided with top sirloin, strip loin, inside round or boneless cross-rib steaks to take home and cook. Follow-up interviews recorded how they prepared the beef, as well as their impressions of tenderness, flavour and juiciness.

Regardless of which steak they were given, consumer satisfaction was higher in 2009 than in 2001. This was true for tenderness (76% in 2009 vs. 68% in 2001), juiciness (78% vs. 72%) and flavor (82% vs. 76%). No decreases in consumer satisfaction were reported for any of the steaks in any category.

Fewer consumers were satisfied with steaks from the boneless cross rib (75%) or inside round (69%). Overall, tenderness, juiciness and flavor ratings were considerably lower for the boneless cross rib and inside round than for the strip loin and top sirloin. The most common complaints were related to toughness (39%), dryness (14%) and lack of flavour (10%).

This might be related to preparation methods. These steaks were marinated much less than half the time, and were cooked properly less than five per cent of the time, even if cooking instructions were provided.

When consumers were asked “why wasn’t your steak perfect,” less than 20 per cent felt it was due to their preparation; over 80 per cent blamed the beef.

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Swallow, a Dexter cow owned by Martyn and Caroline Ryder is the world’s smallest cow. Dwar fed here by an Angus bull, she was 33.5 in (85 cm) from rear foot to hind when offi- cially measured at Pike End Farm, Rishworth, Halifax, UK. You can find her on page 158 of the new book of Guinness World Records for 2011.

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