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Beef and Pork Producers Assail COOL Legislation

by 5m Editor
3 November 2008, at 8:22am

CANADA - Canadian beef and pork producers want Ottawa to take up trade actions against the US over a new law that is already starting to shut their livestock out of American markets.

Since Washington's country-of-origin labelling (COOL) law went into effect on October 1st, a growing number of meat plants in the US are refusing to accept Canadian cattle and hogs for processing.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council are calling on the federal government to challenge the US law under the North American free-trade agreement and World Trade Organization rules.

They warn failure to get the law repealed will drive some Canadian producers out of business, reduce livestock herds and cost the two industries an estimated $800-million a year.

“They need to initiate a trade challenge against the US,” said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. He added that producers are concerned the law could be made more damaging if US voters send more trade-protectionist politicians to Washington in tomorrow's elections.

Under COOL, Canadian cattle and pigs must be segregated in US feedlots and packing plants, prompting some firms to only deal with American livestock. ReportonBusiness.com reports that Canadian animals are also required to have more documentation about where they came from, and in the case of cattle, the animals must have tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease.

Such measures cut into already narrow profit margins.

The presidents of both the cattlemen's association and the pork council wrote letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week, urging the federal government to take action. Together the two groups represent about 100,000 producers.

The pork council said US hog processing companies have indicated they will no longer purchase hogs born outside of the States. Other US processors have said they will only buy Canadian pigs on certain days at selected plants.

The council estimates the pork industry will lose about $350-million a year if the law remains on the books.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Ottawa wants to influence the US legislation by working with the American lawmakers and industry.

“I would caution that if the federal government is taking the view that it must have concrete evidence of the adverse impact of COOL before approaching the US, very valuable time will be lost and any solution could come too late for the Canadian swine industry.”


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"Canada expects the U.S. to ensure that their rule, as it is implemented, will not be any more trade restrictive than necessary and that it will be fully consistent with their international trade obligations."
Steve Lavergne, Agriculture Canada's director of bilateral relations for the Americas

The cattlemen's association says some corporations, including Tyson, are already refusing Canadian cattle and that others such as Cargill may only slaughter Canadian cattle on certain days.

Cattlemen's president Brad Wildeman, who runs a feedlot near Lanigan Sask., was even more emphatic in his letter to the prime minister.

“Our preliminary estimate is that COOL is reducing the value of Canadian cattle at a rate approaching $500-million per year. We fear that the next US administration may further tighten the procedures,” he wrote.

“The worst has likely not yet been seen and we anticipate the costs could grow further. Therefore, we urge you to initiate a trade challenge immediately to seek repeal of this egregious US law.”

Ritz suggested if that isn't successful, Ottawa would consider launching a trade challenge.

“We have made it clear to the United States that we will consider all our options, including actions under both the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization provisions, but right now we have a window of opportunity to influence the COOL regulations before they become final and we are focused on that,” Ritz said in an e-mail statement.

The US COOL law that went into effect on October 1st is called an interim final rule. The final rule is expected to be passed next year.

The challenge is to ensure that the final rule will keep trade distortions to a minimum, said Steve Lavergne, Agriculture Canada's director of bilateral relations for the Americas.

“Canada expects the US to ensure that their rule, as it is implemented, will not be any more trade restrictive than necessary and that it will be fully consistent with their international trade obligations,” Mr. Lavergne said from Ottawa.

To keep the issue on the Harper government's radar, producer groups are urging members to lobby their MPs.

“We must work together to hold MPs accountable,” the association said in an information update to members.

“As significant members of Canada's true grassroots, keep reminding our politicians and Canada what this industry means for today and tomorrow.”

5m Editor