Cargill’s Guelph beef plant cleared to ship to Russia

The list of Canadian beef processors eligible to export to Russia now includes Eastern Canada’s largest packer.

Cargill Meat Solutions said Friday its application for certification for its beef plant at Guelph has been recognized by Russian regulatory authorities, effective immediately.

Several other Canadian processors have been cleared to ship to Russia, but approval for Cargill’s Guelph operation “was critical for eastern Canadian beef producers,” the company had said.

The former Better Beef plant, which Cargill bought in 2005, is one of the biggest integrated beef packing sites in Canada and can process up to about 1,500 cattle per day.

Cargill said it “will now work diligently with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to facilitate the trade of beef and related products.”

“Ontario and Quebec beef cattle producers will directly benefit with another export market open for business,” Len Penner, president of Cargill’s Canadian operations, said in the company’s release.

Cargill estimates the Guelph approval alone will result in over $2 million per year in new sales, the federal government said in a separate release.

The U.S. agrifood firm’s Canadian meat packing wing noted it’s already been supplying”some” Russian demand through its largest beef plant, at High River, Alta.

Total exports from the company’s beef operations in Western Canada “significantly increased” in 2010 over 2009, the company said, calling 2010 a “breakout year” for its beef business in the West. Cargill said Friday it expects “to see the same results in the East after today’s announcement.”

Russia “was no different than any of our valued markets; it took some heavy lifting to regain access, post-BSE,” Matt Gibney, the Guelph plant’s general manager, said in the same release.

“We remained optimistic that with all the collaborative work being done by CFIA, the Canadian Beef Export Federation (CBEF) and the Canadian embassy in Russia that this day would materialize.”

The federal government noted Friday that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz had “highlighted the need for (the Guelph) facility to be approved for export” when he met last week in Germany with his Russian counterpart, Yelena Skrynnik.

New veterinarian

Ritz’s department said the process got underway in October 2009 when he led a trade mission to Russia, which led to the negotiations and agreement on the conditions under which Russia would take Canadian beef.

Russian officials agreed to open ports to Canadian bone-in beef from cattle under 30 months of age and boneless beef from cattle over 30 months of age.

The value of Canadian beef exports to Russia rose during 2010 to over $20 million, compared to just $5.5 million in 2009, the government said.

Ritz last week also confirmed CFIA plans to put a permanent veterinarian in Moscow “to help mitigate future trade disruptions and expand market access for beef and pork.”

This placement “will not only benefit Canadian producers, but it will also help Russian importers and processors,” the government said.

Problems related to Canadian beef and pork exports to Russia have mainly involved certification and proper paperwork, Ritz said recently on the hog industry-sponsored program Farmscape.

“Shipments were being held up or not allowed to leave Canada or held up at the Russian end simply because of a change in a certificate requirement,” Ritz said on the program.

Having a Canadian veterinarian, fluent in Russian, on the ground is expected to allow such paperwork to be handled “right on site, so that we don’t have to have people jumping on a plane to fly over” and then deal with the resulting downtime, he said.

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