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History: Foot and mouth and floor prices

Reprinted from the May 1952 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

By Kenneth Coppock

The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Saskatchewan in late February caused the cancellation of the Regina Bull sale — which this year held forth much promise — and the postponement of the great Calgary Sale. The events at Kamloops and Edmonton went forward as scheduled and the Calgary sale was held the week of April 14th. High prices at Kamloops and Edmonton were posted and at Calgary with 856 bulls of the beef breeds selling average prices received for each breed were exceeded only by the phenomenal averages posted in 1951 — this even though shipments to British Columbia and the U.S.A. were embargoed.

Such results forcibly emphasized the confidence and faith which cattle producers hold for their industry. The interpretation is “the Foot and Mouth menace will be licked and the U.S. Sanitary Embargo will be lifted in the near future, and our job is to supply an ever increasing need for red beef on this continent.” One cannot deny that this confidence among the producers themselves is absolutely essential for the return of the industry to normal production and marketing conditions.

The cattle industry on the prairies, especially in Alberta, rejoiced when unrestricted shipments of dressed meats, live cattle, sheep and hogs were permitted from non-quarantined areas by British Columbia. That province normally imports from 80 per cent to 90 per cent of its livestock and meats from Alberta and Western Saskatchewan and its embargo threatened the virtual destruction of the beef cattle industry in Alberta. Its removal made sense from both a national health viewpoint and a national economic viewpoint. It should never have been imposed in the first place. It did no good and did no harm from a disease-control standpoint; it conferred considerable market advantage to the cattle producers of one province to the detriment of those of other provinces. Although B.C. is referred to, the same conclusions may be made for the rash action of the Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec governments.

The action of the Provinces in imposing embargoes on shipments of livestock from Alberta and the non-quarantine areas of Saskatchewan will make sad reading when in years hence the history of the economic development of Western Canada is written.

Although the disease crisis is considered to have passed — the recent fresh outbreak in the buffer quarantine zone will serve to emphasize the necessity of our veterinarians and producers to be on the alert for several months to come — the marketing crisis is at hand and threatens to deepen with the approach of the fall marketing period.

Already the Federal Government has announced floor prices on live cattle as follows for good steers: Toronto, Montreal and Moncton $25.00 per cwt; Winnipeg, $23.35; Saskatoon, $22.80; Edmonton and Calgary, $22.55 and Vancouver, $23.40 per cwt. Along with Government officials we are not too certain about the workings of the support program; however it has been announced that it will continue so long as the U.S. embargo is on and the prices given will be good until July, will be re-examined at that time to reflect market conditions and if necessary will be made on a monthly basis thereafter.

Although we candidly view the support program with misgivings we admit the necessity of some program which will give protection to the industry in a time of a calamity over which it could not possibly have had control. The U.S. market, because of the fresh outbreak and despite good luck for the next several months, could be denied to us for 1952. This means when grass beef cattle move to market this fall producers will have to rely upon a government setup to take surplus beef at a fair price. This can only mean the accumulation by the government of large surpluses of meat of all kinds. The next logical step is that of commodity contracts, notably with the United Kingdom, and this could mean extremely low prices and government intrusion into the industry for several years to come.

In light of the above possibilities and even though our anxieties may not be realized it would appear necessary and extremely advisable for the industry itself to take steps immediately to expand its most important market; namely the market to the Canadian people. Per capita consumption of beef dropped in Canada in 1951 to a low of 44.1 pounds. It had been as high as 69.3 pounds in 1943 and for the years 1942 to 1947 inclusive averaged 65.8 pounds. For every one pound increase in home consumption, an expanded internal market for 30,000 head is created and should a 10 pound per capita increase be brought about an enlargement of our home market for 300,000 head of cattle is provided. The resulting 54.1 pounds per capita consumption figure which would result would still be 11.6 pounds below the six year average which we have already experienced.

Herein is the challenge to the industry. The job to be done is the largest one in Canada’s beef cattle industry today. A well-rounded program receiving the full co-operation and supported financially by all segments of the industry, which will publicize the beef product as a great protective food, rich in vitamins necessary for good human health, how to offer it to the public and how to cut, cook and serve it in the hotels, restaurants, dining cars, the service messrooms, the construction camps and in the home of the Canadian housewife, could produce beneficial results. Such a program would eventually broaden to include proper livestock feeding to assure improvement to the quality of the product offered to the consumer. From a long range view it would have an impact on the general agricultural pattern of Canada.

Admittedly such a program could not be produced quickly enough to consume the crisis which looms for the industry this fall. But the producers through their Beef Council should get started. In the meantime the industry must look to the government support program to carry it through until domestic consumption is rebuilt and the U.S. embargo lifted.

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