Canada: pork producers criticise US law

03-11-2008 | |

Beef and pork producers want Ottawa to start trade actions against the United States over a new law that is already starting to shut their livestock out of American markets, writes John Cotter for The Canadian Press.

Since Washington’s country-of-origin labelling law went into effect on Oct. 1, a growing number of meat plants in the US are refusing to accept Canadian cattle and hogs for processing.

Challenge US law
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council are calling on the federal government to challenge the US law under the North American free-trade agreement and World Trade Organisation rules. They warn failure to get the law repealed will drive some Canadian producers out of business, reduce livestock herds and cost the two industries an estimated $800-million a year.

Under country-of-origin labelling, Canadian cattle and pigs must be segregated in US feedlots and packing plants, prompting some firms to only deal with American livestock. Canadian animals are also required to have more documentation about where they came from, and in the case of cattle, the animals must have tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease.

The presidents of both the cattlemen’s association and the pork council wrote letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week, urging the federal government to take action. Together the two groups represent about 100,000 producers.

Estimated loss
The pork council said US hog processing companies have indicated they will no longer purchase hogs born outside of the States. Other US processors have said they will only buy Canadian pigs on certain days at selected plants. The council estimates the pork industry will lose about $350-million a year if the law remains on the books.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Ottawa wants to influence the US legislation by working with the American lawmakers and industry. “I would caution that if the federal government is taking the view that it must have concrete evidence of the adverse impact of COOL before approaching the US, very valuable time will be lost and any solution could come too late for the Canadian swine industry.”

“We have made it clear to the United States that we will consider all our options, including actions under both the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organisation provisions, but right now we have a window of opportunity to influence the COOL regulations before they become final and we are focused on that,” Ritz said in an e-mail statement.

The US COOL law that went into effect on Oct. 1 is called an interim final rule. The final rule is expected to be passed next year.

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