Calgary delays meat plant vote

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
Calgary's City Council, on the night of Monday, September 13, deferred consideration until January 2005 of a meat-packing plant, which had already received technical approval from Calgary's planning commission.
The decision came just days after the Canadian government pledged millions in aid for more slaughterhouses to deal with the glut of cattle from the BSE crisis.
Few of the slaughterhouse opponents said they believe the $40-million project will be killed.
"From a community perspective, we will become more adamant, more serious," said Grant Steiner. "We knew this was going to be a battle."
That fight may soon spread across Canada. Canada's government announced recently it would provide loan guarantees to groups wanting to build new meat-packing plants and would also fast-track federal approval to increase slaughter capacity.
Alberta Agriculture Minister Shirley McClellan has expressed frustration that the slaughterhouse proponents in northeast Calgary have faced obstacles from the community.
"Maybe she should try living next to one," said Calgary resident Grant Galpin, noting that meat plants can impact the quality of local air and water.
Galpin said he is pleased that city planners will have to come up with studies looking at waste disposal and the potential impact of the meat-packing plant on local environment.
He said this shouldn't be viewed as a slight against cattle producers, who have been fighting to survive since international borders slammed shut on live cattle 16 months ago when an Alberta cow tested positive for BSE.
"I'm supportive of the local farmer getting money for his beef," said Galpin.
"But as far as building these plants, I think there needs to be a lot more thought. They've agreed to speed up the process on all of these plants and I think they really need to re-think that. Are we really doing our homework before we run out and build these things?"
Agricultural economist Ralph Ashmead also appealed for caution from government officials, noting that he's aware of 20 groups across Canada looking to establish processing plants.
"There's a risk that ... we could have too many plants and then we get a bunch of them going broke because we have a surplus supply or don't have enough markets," said Ashmead.
Many of those proposals come from cattle producers who have banded together to try and create their own way of dealing with a huge glut of cattle.
Statistics Canada has indicated there are one million more cattle on Canadian farms compared with a year ago.
Most of the animals processed in Canada go through the Lakeside and Cargill plants in southern Alberta, which each kill about 4,000 animals a day. The one proposed in Calgary expects to slaughter about 400 a day.
There is no estimate on when the U.S. border will re-open to live Canadian cattle, but economists stress it's important for any new processors to find a niche market so they aren't competing with the major slaughterhouses, which have lower costs because of volume.
"Any new firms should be looking at different products and markets, anything from organic to specialized," said Ashmead. "Find a niche market so you're not in that same competitive market as the big boys." — WLJ