OTTAWA — Faster aid mechanisms are needed for farmers dealing with livestock emergencies, the federal Conservatives and a cattle rancher’s organization said Friday amid an escalating bovine tuberculosis quarantine in western Canada.
While Ottawa has promised financial help to ranchers caught in quarantine limbo, a more permanent solution is needed to provide quicker financial relief during future potential outbreaks, says the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
The quarantine has spread to 35 cattle operations in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, affecting 22,000 animals, as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tries to pinpoint the source of the outbreak and determine the extent to which herds have been infected.
Half a dozen cattle at just one of those farms, owned by rancher Brad Osadczuk, have tested positive for the contagious bacterial disease. The first infected animal was discovered after being slaughtered in the United States in mid-September.
But while Osadczuk and other producers affected by the quarantine wait for CFIA investigators to complete their work, which could take months, they can’t sell or move any of their livestock and must continue feeding their cattle.
It’s likely that most of the cattle will be declared healthy, said John Masswohl, the association’s director of government and international relations.
“In the meantime, they have incurred considerable expenses and loss of the value of the animals during that time,” Masswohl said.
For Osadczuk, who knows that part or all of his herd will have to be destroyed, there will be compensation for the animals that are put down. Until that happens, however, it’s costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep his cattle alive, the Jenner, Alta., rancher told a Commons committee earlier this week.
“So he is essentially feeding dead animals,” said Masswohl.
The other affected ranchers will have to bear the expense of feeding and watering cattle that they normally would have already sold before winter, and will likely have to sell their herds at a cut rate in the spring.
Some farmers may soon be able to house animals at feedlots approved by the CFIA, said Dr. Jaspinder Komal, deputy chief veterinary officer and executive director at the agency’s Animal Health Directorate. It’s not yet clear, however, who will pay to maintain the cattle while they undergo testing or where the feedlots will be located.
Financial details were still being worked out among different levels of government and the industry, Komal told a technical briefing Friday.
A cash advance program is available to ranchers who need money to feed their animals before they go to market. But it is structured as a loan that must be paid back, and ranchers are concerned they won’t be able to do that if they are forced to sell the cattle at a fraction of what they are normally worth on the open market.
Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told the House of Commons on Thursday that the government intends to help the affected ranchers, but he provided no specifics other than a suggestion of interest relief for farmers forced to take out emergency loans.
“We are committed to compensate these ranchers for the costs they are facing, including interest on their advance payment loans,” the minister said.
The cattlemen say more is needed.
“They need to do more than a just a loan,” said Masswohl. “There needs to be some additional compensation for these affected farmers.”
The situation for affected farmers is “brutal,” added Alberta Conservative MP Martin Shields.
“It’s bankruptcy time if there is no funds in between because they’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars that they don’t have,” Shields said Friday as he echoed calls for additional relief.
“Hopefully (the governing Liberals) learn from this … so that there would be something in the future in that to cover this.”