Comments: A Canadian problem, or ours?

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jul 24, 2006
by WLJ
I’d have to say at this point, the Canadian beef industry has a bit of explaining to do. They have certainly had their problems with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) lately. I hate to say it, but I’ve gathered a bit of concern over the past few BSE cases they’ve experienced.

A couple of weeks ago, they found their seventh case of the brain wasting disease in a 50-month- old cow. That cow would have had her first calf after the border was closed by BSE and six years after the feed ban. Canada has now removed meat and bone meal from all animal feeds.
A week or two before, the Canadians found BSE in a 15-year-old cow , which didn’t seem to raise any real attention. You could understand the possibility of BSE in a cow that age. The only thing you might be able to say about the 15-year-old cow is question why was she still around. The only thing I can think of is that she was someone’s pet.

Anyway, the 50-month-old cow that was found did raise a few concerns about the Canadian feed ban, and at this point, you do have to ask the Canadian government what gives. The first answer—excuse—was that having a 4-year-old cow turn up with BSE is not unusual from other countries’ experiences and it doesn’t surprise them. They are concerned enough about this cow that they decided to quarantine the farm she came from.

If I recall, out of six of cases of BSE, three of them are from cattle questionably under, or close to the feed ban. I realize that the day the feed ban was implemented wouldn’t mark the end of any meat and bovine material used in cattle feed, except perhaps at the feed mill, but not at the farm level. It seems the feed ban may have been more of an arbitrary line than anything. It also demonstrates that we still know so little about this disease.

The issue doesn’t get any play in the major media anymore, which is just about perfect. No one seems to really care about BSE except for a few of our more fickle trading partners, and a few cattlemen’s groups. BSE has had little impact on the markets in recent times.

That brings me to another point. Canada does have a small problem with BSE and its seems to be getting in the way of our ability to do business overseas.

Mexico has been a real star in the wake of all this BSE stuff and has been there buying beef since the beginning, I would imagine they are also smart enough to realize that if they don’t buy U.S. beef, the U.S. may not need to buy as many Mexican feeder cattle.

Korea has pointedly said they are concerned about buying our beef because they’re aware U.S. packers are not segregating U.S. and Canadian beef. During the first full year of trade with Canada, the U.S. imported around 650,000 head of fed cattle and 350,000 head of feeder cattle. Of the 34 million head of cattle slaughtered in the U.S., it wouldn’t seem that Canada’s million head exports to us would have that much effect on the markets, and it hasn’t.

This is one of those situations when perception becomes reality. Japan and Korea think this BSE is pretty real and I’d have to say, right or wrong, ensuring that our packing industry doesn’t ship any Canadian cattle processed in their U.S. plants is apparently an issue.

Where do you draw the line on live cattle imports from Canada in order to perpetuate trade with Japan and Korea? A million head of fed and feeder cattle from Canada certainly isn’t enough to make or break this market. But the only cattle shipped to the U.S. for slaughter are under 30 months old and have been proven not to be at risk for spreading the human form of BSE.

It’s looking like the Canadian BSE situation may turn out to be like Japan’s and turn up a few cases every year.

I was under the impression that as time went on, post feed ban attrition of the cow herd would take care of BSE and be less of an issue.
We know that banning specified risk material from bovine feeds has reduced the incidence by 80 percent, or better, world wide. But that other 20 percent is becoming annoying, because this group defies BSE logic as we know it. One thing you have to say about this BSE situation, there doesn’t seem to be anything consistent about it. — PETE CROW