It’s okay: French politicians visit Alberta cattle ranch

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It’s not every day that you see a group of politicians from the French National Assembly gathering around an Alberta ranch wearing plastic slippers.

But that was the case earlier this month at Shoestring Ranch near Acme as Ian and Carman Murray hosted three MPs (French version of MPs), two officials from the Canadian Embassy in France and several members of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

This is just one example of the quiet behind-the-scenes efforts by the Cattle Association to open what has been a very sticky door to Europe for Canadian beef.

“Two or three times a year, delegations from various countries come to visit the processing facilities, feedlots and cow-calf operations,” said Bob Lowe, feedlot owner in the Greater Montreal area. Nanton, vice-president and president of the ACC. its foreign trade committee.

In the fall of 2017, his organization praised the trade deal with Europe, saying it “now has the potential to become a $ 600 million annual customer for Canadian beef,” but adding that “the hurdles permanent techniques ”need to be resolved. These include not using hormones, finding an acceptable carcass wash, and having enough qualified vets to certify that the beef meets European standards.

Ian and Carman Murray and kids Amber and Ty welcomed a large contingent of visitors to the Shoestring Ranch earlier this month. From left to right: Jill Harvie (CCA), Dr Oliver Schunicht (Feedlot Health Management Services), Laurence Maillart-Méhaignerie (MP, National Assembly), Yannick Dheilly (Embassy of Canada in France) Philippe Bolo (MP, National Assembly), les Murrays, Nicolas Turquois (MP, National Assembly), Guillaume Cliche (Embassy of Canada in France), Cédric Chevrel (Agriculture Canada) and CCA vice-president Bob Lowe.

Mark Klassen

The beef sector’s efforts to break into Europe are paying off, but they are moving slowly.

Last year the quantity and value of Canadian beef sold in the EU roughly doubled, but the numbers were relatively low – 1,059 tonnes of beef worth $ 15.5 million went from Canada to Europe while 3,236 tonnes (a 12 percent increase) worth $ 18.9 million (up 22 percent) came the other way.

“The Europeans always send more in the form of tonnage than we send there, but the dollar value is about the same. It is increasing every year, ”Lowe said.

Hosting European delegations improves understanding of how Canadian beef is produced and also allays fears about CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union), added Lowe.

“There are a lot of fears among different players in Europe that we are huge players in the beef industry and we are just acting to shut them down,” he said. “We have two to three percent of the world’s livestock. We are not that big.

The view from the ranch

Shoestring Ranch was a natural stop for French politicians, who also visited the nearby Hagel feeders and a Viterra elevator.

Ian Murray has been producing for the natural beef market for many years, selling beef from cattle raised without growth promoters or treated with antibiotics in farmers’ markets and also selling in Europe through the Heritage Angus Beef Group. He is also certified under the Verified Beef Production Plus program and works with Mark Klassen, Director of Technical Services at CCA, on issues related to the sale of beef in Europe.

“There’s a little extra time to spend on paperwork and sitting down with the vets,” Murray said. “Because we’re 95% there already, it’s worth taking us a little further. “

However, he is not sure that selling on the EU market will earn him much money.

“The jury is out on whether you are making more money right now in the EU market compared to what we could get by implanting these calves (with a growth stimulator) and going the commercial route,” did he declare. “It’s a debate that has lasted for 20 years.

But it pays to develop new markets and expand smaller ones, instead of just relying on the United States, he said.

“At the end of the day, although it’s a breakeven point compared to what we might get if we set up … it’s opening up to an EU market.”

Klassen believes that the additional production obtained from hormone implants “is probably approaching $ 200 for the live animal supply chain”, and beef sold in Europe must therefore go further to close this gap.

Slaughterings and carcasses

But there is another option that the breeders association is exploring: the sale of breeding cows. “It would be a huge boost to the industry for the cull cow herd,” Lowe said. “You can be sure that a cow that is a breeding animal has never had a growth promoter. They automatically meet these criteria.

But the catch is that the EU would have to accept cattle over 30 months old, which is another initiative the ACC is working on.

Yet another obtains European approval for carcass washing (a safety measure for pathogens such as E. coli) used in Canada.

“We approved lactic acid,” Klassen said. “It’s in the meat naturally. We can use it, but the problem is, it can cause discoloration. This is not a problem with carcasses, but if you want to apply it to the cutouts, this is where the discoloration appears. We’re trying to get another chemical approved, which is a relative of vinegar called peroxyacetic acid. “

Researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lacombe station have already conducted studies on these washes and the CCA has just started research with major abattoirs in Alberta on them.

“When we have completed all of this, we will submit an application to the European Food Safety Authority,” Klassen said.

Respond to the request

Another problem is the lack of veterinarians trained by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to inspect farms and ensure they are following EU protocols.

“There are quite a few CFIA approved veterans who have trained in Alberta,” said Klassen. “But in some provinces, there wouldn’t even be enough to rely on one hand.”

The breeders association is also working on connecting participants in the EU beef program. The CFIA does not publish the names of participants, so a cow-calf producer considering becoming certified for Europe could be close to an EU registered feedlot and not even know it.

“We have a problem with the ability to link one part of the supply chain to another,” Klassen said.

But the demand is definitely there, Lowe said.

At a recent CCA meeting in Ottawa, he said, officials at meat packer JBS said they could not get enough EU certified beef during the summer, so they had to stop these exports to Europe.

“Supply issues are holding us back,” Lowe said. “There are simply not enough producers enrolled in the program. Some people just think it’s not paying off and there aren’t enough CFIA-certified vets to inspect facilities and allow people to comply with the EU.

His organization is currently working with the CFIA to get more veterinarians and producers certified, but “it’s quite a process,” he said.

“You have to have your farm certified even before the calves are born. “

Still, Lowe and Murray are optimistic about the prospects in Europe, saying the French delegation’s visit is one more step on this road.

“The opportunity is there and as we continue to expand the European market it will grow,” said Murray. “It’s up to the producers to decide that they want to do something different and pursue this market. “

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