Fallout from BSE case temporary: Minister

Alberta is not expecting its international beef markets to start slamming shut their doors after the latest case of mad cow disease, says the province’s agriculture minister.

Alberta is not expecting its international beef markets to start slamming shut their doors after the latest case of mad cow disease, says the province’s agriculture minister.

Since the discovery of another case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered on an Alberta farm earlier this month, South Korea has banned imports of Canadian beef and Indonesia has stopped taking non-edible bone meal.

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson believes import restrictions on beef will be temporary and is not expecting other trading partners to impose import bans.

“I think we’ve been very proactive, and the federal government has been very proactive, in terms of talking to our trade partners,” said Olson, in speaking to media ahead of an appearance at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in Red Deer on Thursday.

“We’re all subject to the same rules around the world. We follow the rules scrupulously and we have an expectation that our trading partners will have faith in the system, as we do.

“Can I guarantee that a trading partner won’t take some action? Of course, I can’t. We have seen it from time to time in the past where non-science-based barriers are put up as a convenient excuse.

“My expectation is people won’t be doing that and we’ll be watching very carefully,” he said.

“I’m very pleased with the efforts that have been undertaken by both industry and agencies.”

Olson was asked whether the timing was particularly bad for BSE to rear its head, considering the province’s economic pummelling from world oil markets.

“It’s never great timing,” he said. “But we have to live in the real world and it’s happening now so we’ll deal with it now.”

As Alberta’s second largest industry, and it’s largest renewable resource industry, agriculture stands to play a key role in future efforts to diversify the province’s economy — a goal that has been touted as critical if Alberta is to wean itself off dependence on fluctuating oil markets.

“We have huge opportunities. Eating isn’t going out of style. We have an exploding world population and we produce here in Alberta what the world wants in terms of high-quality, safe food.

“So we really should be embracing the opportunity to diversify.”

That means finding new markets, and Asia-Pacific is seen as a key part of agriculture’s future.

Olson pointed out that none of the three trade offices the government announced it was closing on Wednesday are in the Asia-Pacific region.

“There’s a reason for that. That is a huge area of opportunity for us.”

Conference speaker futurist and strategy consultant Bob Treadway also stressed the need for Canada to improve its supply management to become a player in world food markets.

To reach new markets, agriculture producers must understand what the world wants to eat.

For instance, one half of all of the world’s pork is eaten by one country, China.

The growing middle class in Asian-Pacific nations provides a huge market for producers to serve.

By 2025, it is estimated half of the world’s population will rely on imported food, he said.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com