The bad news is we may have to eat beef three times a day, the good news is there is a job opportunity for someone

President Obama may be talking about easing trade protectionist attitudes between the U. S. and Canada, but the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, sure isn’t

In the ongoing saga of country-of-origin-labelling, the plot took a bad turn in late February, less than a month after it took what many thought was a positive turn.

At this writing, Vilsack had just introduced some voluntary guidelines (which he later says he will move to enforce if necessary) which increase labelling requirements.

According to Canadian Cattleman’s Association president Brad Wildeman: “In our view, the guidelines, as written, will be worse than the interim final rule that the Government of Canada was challenging through the WTO,” says Wildeman. “The implications for the industry on both sides of the border are significant. If the secretary’s suggestions are adopted, either “voluntarily” or through subsequent rulemaking, the rule will become even more onerous, costly and impractical than it is now, and extremely trade disruptive.

“This latest action by the USDA increases the already obvious U. S. violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and WTO trade rules,” Wildeman continues. “When the final rule was passed by the Bush administration in January, we felt a pause in Canada‘s trade challenge was in order to evaluate the market response. But this latest protectionist action makes it very clear that Canada must use every tool to challenge actions and policies that will harm the Canadian industry. It’s obvious that the U. S. has no intention of creating a workable solution for the industry. When the interim final rule was released in September 2008, many U. S. packers decided that the easiest way to comply was to no longer process cattle finished in Canada. We had hoped that this would turn around with the final rule. Not only is this U. S. action harming Canada’s red meat industry, but it will ultimately impair the global competitiveness of the majority of our U. S. counterparts, who wanted to avoid the significantly increasing expense of handling cattle imported from foreign markets.

“The Government of Canada hasn’t been afraid to ignite trade action to defend Canadian producers in the past,” says Wildeman. “We have no doubt the federal government will continue to deliver strong action to oppose any unfair implementation of COOL.”

If you need more information on this visit the CCA website at

JOB OPENING AT ALMA

And, after breaking the story in my Blog February 21, it was confirmed in a letter from Deep Throat that Jeff Kucharski is no longer CEO of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).

Kucharski who has been with Alberta Agriculture for more than 20 years and worked mainly in the international trade area, had only been at the helm of ALMA for the past few months. I don’t think this was a happy ending. A letter from the ALMA board chairman said the board decided to hold a competition to recruit a new CEO. That has to rattle the confidence of the person who is already the CEO. After hearing that Kucharski decided to end his secondment to ALMA effective February 28.

I don’t have my hand on the pulse of the beef industry, but I know there were a few letters and phone conversations with producers in my office, who, shall we say did not have Kucharski on their Christmas card list.

ALMA is an agency created last year to help relaunch or renew Alberta’s livestock industry — not just beef, but pork, poultry, sheep, bison, elk and other meat sectors. While the agency mandate is geared to improve production standards and ultimately marketing of Alberta meat products, the agency has a broader impact because essentially if you are from another province but have livestock fed or processed in Alberta, you need to meet ALMA standards.

Ken Moholitny, who first worked for Alberta Agriculture as a brand inspector on The Ark, is filling in as interim CEO. I first met Moholitny in the late ’80s when he was administrator of the National Tripartite Stabilization Program. He retired from the department not long ago after serving as an assistant deputy minister.

Lee Hart Editor

ANIMAL WELFARE AGENDA

Livestock care is a growing focus of industry and consumers worldwide, and livestock transport is one of the most critical and visible components, Duane Landals, a member of the Alberta Farm Animal Council told a recent Livestock Transport Conference, in Calgary, Alta. “Today there is increasing focus on animal welfare globally,” says Landals. “But the people in this room have shown we don’t need a global spotlight to force us to take care of the issues. When it comes to livestock care and livestock transport, we do what is right, because it is right.”

Dr. Terry Whiting of Manitoba Agriculture and Food discussed the special challenges of transporting high-risk livestock. “Transportation is an inconvenience for animals. We need to address the challenges with ideas that combine both scientific and practical knowledge. Experience in transporting livestock has at least as much to offer as the science examining livestock transport.”

As a case study of the opportunity for progress at the meat plant level, Bryan Hay of Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon, Man., discussed how Maple Leaf plants conduct regular humane handling plant audits, which include animal unloading. “Some see an audit as a curse, but we see it as a blessing,” says Hay. “It’s not okay now to just say what we do — we have to prove it. Good livestock care leads to good meat quality. That’s what drives everything.”

Livestock transport training and certification programs developed by industry on both sides of the border have also raised the bar. Susan Church, AFAC manager, spoke on the successes and challenges of Canada’s Certified Livestock Transporter (CLT) program.

“A key to progress is keeping up a dialogue with the transporters,” says Church. “That is why CLT is set up not just as a training program but as an ongoing service. We communicate regularly through a dedicated website, regular e-mails and other methods to let our transporters know what they need to be up on.” The conference closed with a discussion with three longtime livestock haulers — Daryl Toews, Dave O’Rourke and Keith Horsburgh.

BUSINESS ADVICE

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings. The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs. When she opens the door, there stands Bob, the next door neighbour. Before she says a word, Bob says, “I’ll give you $800 to drop that towel.” After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob. After a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves. The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs. When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, “Who was that?” “It was Bob the next door neighbour,” she replies. “Great!” the husband says, “did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?”

Moral of the story: If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

COMING EVENT

Livestock Care Conference — Alberta Farm Animal Council Livestock Care Conference will be held at the Black Knight Inn in Red Deer, Alta. , March 27. The day-long conference will feature a number of key speakers on topics ranging

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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