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Monday, December 16, 2019

Ruff Presses Government For Answers To Cattle Issue

Grey Bruce | by Claire McCormack  

New Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff raised issues about cattle farming in his first question period.

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff asked his first question as a Member of Parliament Thursday.

New to the political scene, Ruff was elected in the October federal election replacing retired long-time MP Larry Miller.

Ruff started off his first question in the House of Commons with a nod towards home, saying "I'd be remiss if I didn't first thank the constituents of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound for giving me the pleasure of continuing to serve Canadians and serve them."  

Ruff told the Speaker of the House, "I was disappointed last week while listening to the throne speech to hear very little mention of rural Canada and our critical and diverse agricultural sector. Ontario farmers are suffering from a lack of processing capacity and their inability to sell fed cattle to the United States. The government missed a critical deadline to the World Organization for Animal Health for negligible risk status---Why?"

Annan based Rob Lipsett is the Beef Farmers of Ontario Vice President and is an Ontario representative of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. He appreciates Ruff bringing the question up, "It's a question that we as an industry have been asking for 12 to 14 months about why we aren't being listened to and why is food not being brought to the forefront and the attention of our government," says Lipsett.

"It's nice to see our elected representatives taking notice of this and asking the tough questions that perhaps don't get asked often enough," says Lipsett, who explains Canada has been on the "Controlled Risk" list for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease) since 2007.

A country must go 11 years before it's eligible for removal from the controlled risk list. Canada was expected to apply to be removed, but Lipsett says the answer farmers received was the CFIA had gaps in the data they needed to make a successful application.

"It was beyond disappointment," says Lipsett, adding "It's been since 2007 and we really can't understand why, after this amount of time they did have those gaps in the data."

He hopes the CFIA will apply next July, but notes The World Organization for Animal Health won't make a decision until the following March, which Lipsett says extends their export issues another 18 months.

In response to Ruff's question in the House of Commons, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Marie Claude Bibeau's reply mainly addressed the part of Ruff's question that talked about processing capacity, "We understand that the closure of a meat processing plant in Ontario has significant impact on our cattle producers but we cannot compromise on food safety. Our government is working with the industry and with the province of Ontario to find short term alternatives and to see how the meat processing capacity can be increased."

In the fall, Toronto based meat packing company Ryding Regency's licence was revoked by the CFIA following E. coli contamination investigations and recalls.

Lipsett says a couple of years ago, market signals told the Ontario Beef Industry to expand, but while the feeding sector expanded, packing plants weren't expanding at the same rate creating a backlog of cattle in the system. He says some cattle are now shipped to Alberta or PEI with the closure of the Ryding Regency plant.

As for Ruff's comment about an inability to sell fed cattle to the US, Lipsett notes, the issue with being on the BSE list, for example, is the US has "Quite a lucrative deal with South Korea," but Lipsett says South Korea won't buy Canadian beef because Canada is on the Controlled Risk list.

He says in light of that, US plants have to segregate Canadian cattle in their plants, shut them down, disinfect them, run a designated day for Canadian cattle and then disinfect the plant again, "It got to be so costly for them that they made the decision just not to purchase Canadian cattle anymore."

According to Lipsett, one way the government could help is to offer packing plant expansion grants to mitigate the financial risk of expansion, something he says has made Canadian plants reluctant to expand.

Later, during Thursday's question period, Minister Claude-Bibeau said the CFIA is working with the beef sector to develop a strong submission for spring 2020.

"We know how important it is for the beef sector to be granted Negligible BSE status," said Claude-Bibeau.


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