Cargill, Inc., officials in Canada say they won't knowingly kill and process cattle owned by members of R-CALF USA, the U.S. group fighting to keep Canadian beef and cattle out of the U.S. Two weeks ago, Cargill faced a blockade by Canadian ranchers and feedlot operators at its High River, Alberta, plant when its trucks tried to haul cattle from feedlots that the protesters believed were owned by R-CALF members (see July 23 BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, "Alberta Cattle Feeders Try To Blockade R-CALF Cattle").
R-CALF opposes reopening the U.S. border to live cattle from Canada. The group argues Canadian beef is unsafe because of the threat of BSE. As a result, many Canadian cattlemen don't believe R-CALF members should be allowed to profit from selling Alberta cattle, whose prices have been driven down by the BSE crisis, when they are actively working to keep the border closed.
Feedlot operator Rick Paskal, who helped organize the mid-July Cargill blockade, claims R-CALF members own as many as 50,000 cattle in the province. He adds that there is now solidarity among Canadian packers -- they simply will not knowingly kill R-CALF owned cattle.
Paskal says there's never been more communication among Alberta cattle feeders as there is now. "We know who owns the cattle -- R-CALF members can't hide them from us -- and we'll make sure they don't get their cattle killed," he says.
But, Paskal says the border closure will end up hurting all U.S. cattlemen. "The handwriting is on the wall," he says, pointing to Tyson Food's recent announcement of a $17-million expansion at its Brooks, Alberta, beef plant, Lakeside Packers. Instead of shipping live cattle across the border, Paskal says, Tyson plans to ramp up its Canadian slaughter and processing operations.
The Lakeside expansion, scheduled for a fall 2005 completion, is designed to address "production capacity issues and challenges facing the Canadian beef industry," says Garnet Altwasser, CEO of Lakeside Farm Industries. It will increase Lakeside's capacity by 1,000 head/day over current slaughter levels of approximately 4,000/day.
"I'll guarantee you, Tyson's expansion here will come at the expense of the Tyson plants in Boise [ID] and Pasco [WA]," Paskal says. "That will take significant market access away from U.S. producers in a large area of the U.S. -- right in R-CALF's backyard."
It's common knowledge, Paskal adds, that those two plants have been especially hurt due to decreased cattle supplies resulting from the live-cattle import ban.
"It's becoming very sad for all of us," Paskal says of the border closure and the animosity caused by the continuing R-CALF anti-trade mentality. "And, cattlemen on your side of the border won't see the light until it's too late."