Last week at the 2009 Cattle Industry Convention, the President for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Brad Wildemann, stopped by the BEEF Magazine booth, and I took the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about country of origin labeling (COOL). We all know that this is a hot button issue right now, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to ask Brad about how this regulation is impacting Canadian beef producers. Here is what Brad had to say...
Q: COOL is a big issue right now. Brad, how do Canadian producers view this legislation?
A: I don't think Canadian producers have ever been completely opposed to the idea of COOL. If it drives value, than why not? However, if it truly drives value, than why does it have to be mandatory? I believe it goes against NAFTA trade agreements. In essence, COOL interferes with the most basic of trade laws. In addition, I can't understand the difference between Canadian cattle that are fed in the United States vs. Canadian cattle that are shipped into the United States for immediate slaughter. One group is discounted, while the other is not. We see this as a trade barrier, which is why we started the WTO complaint.
Q: What is COOL directly doing to impact and change Canadian cattle markets? A:
A:We are experiencing a $90/head loss because of sale discounts and the additional transportation needed to take cattle to a plant that will even accept Canadian beef cows. Our compromises in a new law would alleviate these problems for Canadian producers.
Q: So what do you see as an ideal solution when taking a look at COOL?
A: As cattle producers in both countries, we spend too much time worrying about each other and our petty arguments. While we impose silly restrictions in our own continent, we are losing out on global markets overseas. For example, we have the ability to sell tallow to China at a high value because they demand the product. We can sell ruminent bone meal to foreign customers, even though it is not marketable here. Nations like Australia, Brazil and Argentina are eating our lunch in these markets. Instead of shrinking our market availability, we need to grow the pie. We need to keep an eye on the big picture and not lose focus of what's important to our industry in the long run.
Q: Let's talk about Canada's animal identification program...
A: For our mandatory national animal identification system, it will help us in the case of a massive disease outbreak like FMD. Consumers, here and abroad, want to know where their food comes from. NAIS is great for traceability, but it is important to be aware of cost effectiveness for it to be successful. If we tried to read it at every stop along the way: every truck, auction market, barn, feedlot, etc., it would become too costly and cumbersome. However, we still don't believe COOL is compliant. We want to build a new relationship with the United States government and cattle industry. We need to work together to try to open and establish new and old markets.
Q: Let's switch gears and talk about the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Any advice? A:
A:With the current huge world population growth, we have the great opportunity to feed the world. They say it will take five Canadas to feed the growing demand in China, and North America is one of the few places that can still increase grain and meat production, effectively. We need to be willing to transition into change. Old traditions have to make way for new ideas and growth. Additionally, we need to become more proactive about telling our story. As ranchers, we are the true environmentalists. If it wasn't for us, wetlands, forests, natural grasses would be gone. We are stewards of the land, protecting bio-diversity in our world. We need to quit acting defensively when our industry is blamed for climate change, and we need to start proving to the world how much we take care of the land and animals.
Thanks for the Q&A session, Brad. For more information on the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and their WTO complaint, click here .