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Canadian cattlemen’s leader Neil Jahnke, 70

Neil Jahnke, the voice of Canada’s cattle producers during the first two years of their BSE crisis, died at his ranch Monday at age 70, Saskatchewan media report.

Jahnke, who ranched at Gouldtown, Sask., about 70 km northeast of Swift Current, was president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) from 2002 to 2004, and previously led the Saskatchewan Stock Growers’ Association.

In the midst of his term leading the CCA came the discovery of Canada’s first domestic case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in an Alberta cow, in May 2003.

Exports of Canadian beef, beef products and live cattle were then immediately blocked from entering several countries — most notably the United States, in a move which sent Canadian cattle prices tumbling and left many ranchers with few or no viable options to ship their animals.

"Canadians have given our industry tremendous support by buying Canadian beef in record quantities," Jahnke said in September 2003. "We’re calling on them to continue that support, because we still need it.

"There’s no doubt that the beef industry is facing many new challenges, and more new challenges will develop in the weeks and months ahead," he said earlier that month, as producers worked to develop a national cull program.

Jahnke also led the CCA when the U.S. government imposed mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) on meats and other goods as part of the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill.

The CCA lent its support to the Canadian government’s defence against COOL, which ultimately led to a ruling against the U.S. legislation by the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body in 2011.

For his efforts as a "leader and defender of Canada’s beef industry," Jahnke was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2005, nominated by the CCA, SSGA and other organizations.

Other honours for Jahnke included induction into the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2001 and an honorary life membership in the Agricultural Institute of Canada in 1994.

Before serving as CCA president, he was the organization’s vice-president from 2000 to 2002. During a stint as chairman of the CCA’s foreign trade committee, Jahnke led the industry response to an anti-dumping trade claim filed by a protectionist U.S. ranchers’ group, R-CALF USA.

That claim in 1998 briefly led to offsetting tariffs imposed by the U.S. government on Canadian cattle — a move which was later overturned by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Jahnke’s work with the Canadian industry also included terms as chairman of the Canadian Beef Export Federation (1993-96), president of the Saskatchewan Livestock Association (1992) and chairman of the Beef Information Centre (1990-93).

Funeral details and the cause of Jahnke’s death were not available Wednesday.

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