More than a year after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alberta cow, the province’s beef industry lies in shambles.
The border remains closed to live exports, truckers have lost their jobs, feedlot employees have been laid off, pastures are full of aging cattle and many producers are standing at the crossroads — wondering whether to get out now or hang on for another half year, hoping the U.S. border will open after the fall election.
Science has failed to overcome politics, leaving in its wake an industry altered forever. At times, cattle prices plunged by more than 70 per cent. With the loss of the $4-billion export trade, it is estimated BSE has cost Alberta’s beef economy $11 million a day.
This worrisome state will be under discussion at the second annual International Livestock Congress, to be held July 16 at the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition grounds.
“The focus of the congress will be the management of BSE with respect to trade and politics,” said Gina Grosenick, special projects manager for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
Dr. Javier Trujillo, Mexico’s chief veterinary officer, will discuss how his country has coped with the discovery of BSE in its key North American trading partners.Trujillo directed the Mexican response to the Canadian and U.S. cases of BSE.
A BSE-infected cow that was discovered last December in rural Washington State was born in Alberta.
Featuring expert speakers from around the world, the congress will address challenges faced by all sectors, from producers to suppliers and retailers. Topics will include a review of trade and political events following the discovery of BSE in North America. A panel of government experts from Britain and the U.S. will discuss reaction to BSE and its impact on animal health regulations, as well as domestic and international trade.
Panel member Dr. Danny Matthews is a veterinarian who, in 1988, was in charge of the BSE eradication program in Britain.
He currently advises the OIE (World Organization of Animal Health), World Health Organization and the European Commission on issues relating to BSE and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
Dr. Gary Little, a senior veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), will address how the OIE has responded to North America’s experience with BSE and what changes may be expected in the future. Little is involved with the CFIA’s BSE working group, which is responsible for determining what measures the agency should take in dealing with BSE in Canada.
The congress – a partnership between the International Stockmen’s Education Foundation, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Calgary Stampede – is expected to attract more than 300 members of the beef industry, with some attending from as far away as Australia.
In the meantime, some producers are saying it’s time to move on, instead of waiting for the U.S. border to open. They are calling for more slaughter plants to be built to process and locally market Alberta’s excess cattle. And several groups have formed co-ops, with the intention of investing in producer-owned plants to handle cull cattle or specialty meat products not handled by the larger plants.
(Wendy Dudley can be reached by email@example.com)