China’s decision to temporarily close its doors to Canadian beef may be just the start of headaches for the industry, as talk about country-of-origin labelling for beef is resurrected in the United States.
“We heard grumbling that Democrats in the U.S. are trying to bring back country-of-origin labelling on cattle,” said Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen on Thursday.
“We’ve won at the World Trade Organization on that fight numerous times. It’s an issue that should have been dead and buried. That has about a billion dollar price tag attached to it of negative impact to our cattle industry.”
On Tuesday, China suspended all Canadian meat exports, claiming a restricted additive was found in a batch of Canadian pork products. China said counterfeit veterinary health certificates were attached to the batch of pork exported to China.
Dreeshen said Canada has a lot of allies that will stand up against country-of-origin labelling, and said “we’re definitely going to get our backs up again.”
“In the first quarter of last year, we exported to mainland China $48 million worth of beef. It’s still relatively significant, but the U.S. is still our largest beef customer.”
“It’s frustrating to see markets close for whatever reason. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that market access remains open.”
He said everyone was a little stumped when China lumped beef with the temporary ban on pork. The Canadian Border Service Agency, RCMP and Canadian Food Inspection Agency are investigating China’s claims, which will take time.
“Farmers in central Alberta are frustrated by it, and rightfully so. There’s speculation that this is a politically motivated manoeuvre. Many people come up to me and say, ‘Why farmers? Why are we paying the price for this?’ There’s no good answer to that.”
The ban comes during a diplomatic dispute over the arrest of Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Canadian farmers already face a ban by China on canola. Forty per cent of canola was going to China, and so the industry has had to look for other markets, he said.
“Now with beef and pork, having this temporary suspension on export certificates, it’s tough. It’s just a really difficult situation, and that’s why the provincial government is doing everything it can to assist the federal government in dealing with China to try and resolve this.”
Dreeshen said Alberta does have foreign offices around the world to help industry get into certain markets and make new sales.