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COOL’s impact on Canada’s livestock trade focus of WTO case
On September 14-15, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) President Travis Toews, staff Dennis Laycraft and John Masswohl and CCA U.S. legal counsel Ed Farrell, attended the oral hearing of the WTO Dispute Settlement Panel on U.S. Country of Origin Labelling in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives of the Canadian hog industry and Mexican livestock industry were also in attendance. The lone U.S. industry representative was a Texas order buyer of Mexican cattle.
The first day was the opportunity for Canada, Mexico and the U.S., respectively, to present their oral arguments and for the panel to ask questions to these three countries’ representatives.
Canada explained that its complaint is limited to the impact of COOL on livestock trade, not about the requirement to label meat that is exported from Canada and sold in the U.S. Canada is not disputing that countries can require certain origin labeling generally, but is targeting its complaint specifically to the requirement to label meat from animals slaughtered in the U.S. with the country where those animals were born.
Canada argued that the provisions of the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement apply to the COOL measure whereby the U.S. must have a legitimate policy objective and must seek to achieve it in a manner that has the least possible adverse impact on trade. Canada described why the COOL measure does not comply with the requirements of these legal tests and outlined the economic impact that COOL has had on the North American livestock marketplace. In presenting its case, Canada drew on many statements provided by Canadian livestock producers and U.S. livestock purchasers.
The U.S. made little attempt to refute the Canadian economic analysis. Instead, they deflected the cause as being attributable to other factors such as the global recession in 2009. The U.S. also stated its view that COOL itself does not require, and has not caused, any segregation of Canadian cattle or price discrimination. The U.S. argued that if these effects were occurring, it was because of choices being made by market participants, not because of COOL.
On the second day, the so-called ‘third country interested parties’ had their opportunity to make their statements, followed by more questioning from the panelists. We were pleased that no countries sought to weigh in on the substance of the case one way or the other. Generally the third party presentations centered on matters of law and interpretation of WTO provisions where they wanted to advance an interpretation that may be relevant to them in some other matter. Overall, we do not believe any of the third party presentations were harmful to Canada’s complaint.
As the oral hearing wrapped up, the next steps were identified. Within a couple of days of the hearing, all of the parties received documents containing more than 100 written questions from the panelists. Written responses to the panel are due within two weeks and shortly thereafter written rebuttals to statements made at the hearing. A second oral hearing will take place in December followed by further written submissions through February. A final panel report is scheduled for July 2011, most likely followed by an appeal taking another year.
Canadian cattle producers should know that this is an extremely resource-intensive process for the CCA. Our participation as stakeholder advisers has been essential to ensuring that the Canadian government legal team was well prepared with industry evidence and corporate memory.
Just as we have led similarly costly legal and advocacy efforts in the U.S. for most of the past 10-15 years, we will continue to see this case through to its conclusions. This effort is only possible with the valuable provincial check-off dollars provided by producers through their provincial cattle organizations as members of the CCA.
BSE surveillance front and centre: CFIA
After seven long years, suffice to say bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is something the Canadian cattle industry would prefer to put behind it for good. The reality is it will take several more years of continued robust surveillance before Canada can definitively say that BSE is eradicated from the Canadian herd.
As producers consider herd management decisions this fall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is counting on their continued support of the national BSE surveillance program. Robust surveillance will play a critical role in demonstrating how effective the enhanced feed ban of July 2007 -- which further protected animal health by banning SRM from all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers -has been when the CFIA starts its review of the feed ban in 2012.
“Then we will have good scientific information to determine what adjustments we can and cannot make within the feed ban scenario," said Dr. Brian Evans, the CFIA’s Chief Veterinary Officer/Chief Food Safety Officer.
Another reality of the enhanced feed ban is that the animals born since then are only now in the three to four year age range. Canada has never found a BSE case in an animal that young, so the impact of the enhanced feed ban in terms of getting Canada past BSE and truly eradicating it from the herd won’t be fully assessed until animals from 2006-07 reach the 6, 7 and 8-year-old range.
“That means we’re in this for a few more years,” Evans said.
The CCA supports BSE surveillance as the tool to measure the effectiveness of Canada’s animal health controls that will benefit the long-term economic well-being of the cattle industry.
The CFIA’s reminder call for surveillance participation comes amid shrinking test numbers. Tests declined from 2007 to 2008 by 13,598 tests to 48,808 and softened again from 2008 to 2009 by 14,190 to 34,618 tests. While Canada still met its minimum threshold during this period in terms of making sure the integrity of the surveillance program wasn’t compromised, Evans said a higher level of participation is the goal going forward.
As of July, Canada was approaching 23,000 BSE surveillance tests, a number largely in line with the same time last year and nearing Canada’s minimum annual surveillance target of 30,000 BSE tests. This target was originally based on a national herd size of between 5 million and 6 million adult cattle.
Based on Statistics Canada data, the adult cattle population is still fluctuating in this range, at approximately 5.4 million as of January 1, 2010.
Ideally, Evans would like to see surveillance numbers return to 2008 levels if at all possible. He believes this a realistic goal, based on the current size of the national herd and ongoing commitment present within the cattle industry to responsibly manage BSE.
“We don’t want to be seen as doing the minimum necessary; we want to make sure we’re doing what’s appropriate and that it meets the broad needs of all the people that are watching what we’re doing,” he explained.
And while there are frustrations around the pace of which foreign market access is being restored, Evans said surveillance is a necessary component of opening new markets as Canada continues to move forward to demonstrate its level of commitment to surveillance, while the surveillance results show it’s effective.
“It’s not just about market expansion, it’s also about market maintenance in terms of that trust,” Evans said.
Under Canada’s national BSE surveillance program, when an eligible sample is submitted for testing, the CFIA pays the producer $75 to help cover eventual carcass disposal costs. The national program targets animals most at risk for the disease: OTM cattle that are dead, down, dying or diseased and cattle exhibiting strong clinical signs of BSE. Click here for more information.
In Alberta, the surveillance program is a joint effort of Alberta Agriculture and the CFIA and managed differently. The focus is on cattle between 30 and 107 months of age that are sick and deemed unfit for human consumption and on animals that are down, distressed or dead. Cattle over 107 months of age no longer qualify for sampling for BSE testing unless the animal is displaying clear neurological signs confirmed by a certified veterinarian.
Click here for more information.
Five Nations Beef Alliance website goes live
The Five Nations Beef Alliance is comprised of members from cattle organizations in Canada – including the CCA – as well as Australia, the U.S., Mexico, and New Zealand. Together, these member organizations represent producers from countries that account for one-third of global beef production. The alliance’s main goal is to increase the overall demand for beef, while eliminating non-scientific and political trade restrictions. To this end, the alliance unifies member organizations in order to collaborate on animal health and welfare issues, ensuring they are science-based, outcome focused and do not impede trade. Their new website is: www.fivenationsbeefalliance.com.
Avid readers of Action News will recall that in our last issue we told you about CCA staffer Jill Harvie, who heads up the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders development program, being featured in the Five Nations Beef Alliance-Young Ranchers video. The video can be viewed at www.cattlemensyoungleaders.com.
‘Tis the season for dark-cutting carcasses (B4’s). These expensive surprises appear most often in the late summer and fall, and can cost several hundred dollars per head. No effective solution to this problem has been found yet, but click here to learn more about what we have learned, and what we’re trying next.