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BSE testing debate heat up again

21 December 2006

CANADA - The debate over voluntary testing of carcasses for BSE flared up again in Alberta last month and was to be thrashed out at the annual meeting of the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) before this issue arrives in your mailbox.

It was the third time cattle producers have tried to get their elected representatives to call on government to approve BSE testing.

This time, the debate had some added fuel as a new study done for the ABP showed producers lost an average $512 on cull cows sold after BSE hit in 2003. A situation that isn’t likely to improve so long as the U.S. border remains closed to Canadian OTM (over 30 month) cattle.

The study only added to the general feeling of discontent brought on this fall by slumping cattle markets and fears that Canada is once again becoming overly reliant on the U.S. market at a time when the Congress is dominated by more protectionist Democrats. Some see BSE testing as the only way to regain unfettered access to markets like Japan where testing proponents claim the opportunity exists to export $1.5 billion worth of beef per year.

Producers in Okotoks, Alta., asked the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) to at least try to find out if foreign markets would accept a BSE-free product. “I submit that ABP’s and CCA’s complete reluctance and refusal to discuss BSE testing has helped to hold this captive market on OTM beef,” Cam Ostercamp, president of the grassroots Beef Initiative Group, told the meeting. “We’ve been deadlocked in this … argument for 3 years over BSE testing. I can’t prove it’s going to work, you can’t prove that it won’t work. So if, at the very least, ABP and CCA were to pressure the Canadian government into officially asking the question, maybe we could get an answer.”

CCA president Hugh Lynch-Staunton concedes asking the question may bring closure to this issue. “But that does not change the basis for why we do not support BSE market access testing and those arguments against testing remain valid today,” he says.

Based on its own surveys the CCA believes allowing BSE testing for exports would encourage Canadians to ask for the same assurances. That, in turn, could lead to testing of all carcasses as packers move to protect their own brands and avoid exposure to future liabilities.

“Then it becomes an added cost and a major one at that. Not just the cost of the test and process but the logistical costs of those false [BSE] positives stopping the lines in packing plants,” explains Lynch-Staunton. “And the test is not a definitive one. Producers must be made aware of this important fact. It can build a false sense of security. The issue of food safety is to remove that Specified Risk Material (SRM) and if you do that it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Source: Canadian Cattlemen


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