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Working for the beef industry

Canadian beef industry is fortunate to have strong leaders, skilled people behind the scenes

It’s just over 10 years ago that Canada then the U.S. discovered their first homegrown BSE cases. The North American industry has largely put BSE behind it. But the huge cost to the industry is a reminder how economically devastating an animal disease can be. Then there’s the emotional cost of producers being forced out of business and the resulting impact of declining cattle numbers on the structure of the industry.

BSE’s biggest cost, particularly for the U.S., was the bans on cattle and beef exports. Then there was the cost of reduced cattle prices and increased costs for processors because of new regulations regarding the removal and disposal of specified risk materials. The full costs of BSE might never be known. But to date, BSE has cost the Canadian industry C$5 billion to $7 billion and the U.S. industry more than US$16 billion. Costs remain, because neither country has regained full access for cattle and beef to every market it had in early 2003.

BSE and other big issues spotlight how important it is for the industry to have strong leaders and skilled people behind the scenes. Top of the latter group in Canada must surely be John Masswohl, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s lobbyist in Ottawa. Canadian Business recently named Masswohl as No. 40 in its list of Canada’s 50 most powerful business people in 2014, calling him low profile but effective.

Masswohl has been involved with the CCA since late 2004. So I thought it was timely to ask him what he thought were some of the association’s biggest moments over the past decade. Here’s what he told me.

“There was that Friday evening in July of 2005 while we were hosting the Five Nations Beef Alliance meeting in Alberta. We had gotten the word in the afternoon that the Appeals Court in Seattle had overturned Judge Cebull’s injunction and the border was to open immediately. Later that evening we had taken all the Five Nations’ cattle producer leaders to the grandstand show at the Calgary Stampede when the grandstand announcer came on and told the crowd of several thousand people that the border was to open that night. A huge cheer went up from the crowd that was amazing and very satisfying.

“Another was being invited to accompany the prime minister to Brussels, Belgium to sign the Canada-Europe agreement in principle for a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that provides for creation of a very significant quantity of duty-free beef access to Europe. CCA, primarily Dennis Laycraft and myself, put in many trips to accompany negotiators to Europe throughout the four years of negotiations. I know that if we hadn’t done that, an agreement likely would have been reached much earlier but it wouldn’t have been an agreement that Canadian cattle producers could have supported. Because we worked so hard to get the right outcome, the prime minister personally insisted that the deal include acceptable access for Canadian beef.

“The most satisfying moments tend to come from areas where we work the hardest and everyone else thinks it’s hopeless and questions why we put in the effort. The reason we do it is because we know that it will be worth it in the end and since few others believe, no one else is going to do the work if we do not. The issue I’ve worked on the longest is COOL. Even though we are not across the goal line on that yet, we are going to get there. That will be a sweet moment indeed.”

The Canadian industry is fortunate to have people like Masswohl, Laycraft and others working on its behalf.

A North American view of the meat industry. Steve Kay is publisher and editor of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

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A North American view of the meat industry. Steve Kay is publisher and editor of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

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