Canadian sheep remain subject to U.S. country-of-origin labelling, and lamb producers are not happy about it.
U.S. Congress repealed COOL for beef, pork Dec. 18 but not sheep and lamb.
“I think the American sheep industry has better lobbying power than we do, maybe. I don’t know,” said Canadian Sheep Federation chair Phil Kolodychuk.
“I don’t think our government really fought that hard to have us included.”
COOL rules force processing plants to keep Canadian lamb separate from American product and label it accordingly. The extra expense involved in doing that tends to discourage American processors from buying Canadian sheep.
“I would think that some of those plants would like to see that relaxed as well because it’s more economical for them if they could get more animals to process,” said Kolodychuk.
Exclusion of sheep and lamb raises the question of whether the U.S. is still in contravention of international trade regulations and whether the Canadian government is therefore still in a position to administer retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.
Kolodychuk raised the possibility that if the U.S. is allowed to apply COOL for sheep and lamb, “it kind of leaves the door open on them backtracking on cattle and pork as well, if the whole thing isn’t repealed.”
Neither the former Conservative government nor the current Liberal one have battled for the sheep industry, he said.
“We’ve been trying to get a meeting with minister (Gerry) Ritz at the time and now minister (Lawrence) MacAulay. We’ve asked for a meeting quite a few times and we haven’t been able to get one yet.”
The U.S. border closed to sheep and lambs in 2003, when they were caught in the same situation as beef when BSE was found in Canada.
Since then, it has been difficult to export sheep without what Kolodychuk said is a lot of red tape. Before both BSE and COOL, sheep and lamb exports to the U.S. totaled $18 million annually.
In 2014, that value was $500,000.
“As a result of COOL, the Canadian sheep industry estimates it has lost between $223 million and $305 million in sheep and lamb exports,” the federation said in a news release.
“Prior to 2003 we were exporting a lot of lamb out of this country into the States,” added Kolodychuk. “It was a pretty good market for a lot of producers that went that way.
“We are a smaller industry but there’s lots of opportunities in the sheep industry for expansion and to have optional markets (would) definitely help.”
In the news release, he said partial repeal of COOL is contrary to the WTO ruling and “undermines existing trade agreements for all agriculture commodities.”