Canadian beef exports to EU in limbo over E. coli dispute

A proposed CETA trade deal won’t benefit the cattle industry if requirements relating to food safety are not resolved

If differences of opinion over food safety practices are not resolved, the big promises of a new European market for Canadian beef may be a pipe dream.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is close to being signed but issues over carcass washes to remove bacteria like E. coli are points of contention behind the scenes.

Frustration was obvious at a recent Canadian Cattlemen’s Association meeting on foreign trade because some European beef has arrived here but Canada struggles to meet the EU requirements.

“We have to have meaningful access before CCA is supportive of this agreement,” said Dan Darling, president of the association during the Canadian Beef Industry conference held in Calgary Aug. 9-11.

The deal promises a duty free access quota and if producers choose to raise cattle without growth promoting implants, disputes over technical issues might not make trade worthwhile.

“If conditions are too costly and eat up any margins, then it would not be worth it,” said John Masswohl of the CCA.

Canada uses products like citric acid and a form of vinegar among a series of steps to remove pathogens at the packing plant. The Europeans would prefer a third party, peer reviewed approach to show these antimicrobial treatments are effective.

“They certainly seem to have a bias as to where the data comes from. They tend not to give a whole lot of credence to data that comes from the companies that manufacture the product or the company that uses the product, which is really all we have,” Masswohl said.

Government representatives said they understand the frustration.

“The government is working quite closely with industry to try to alleviate some of these technical issues,” said Doug Forsyth of Agriculture Canada.

“Quite frankly, when the agreement does come into place, these technical issues need to be resolved so Canadian producers and exporters can take advantage of the CETA when it comes into play,” he said.

CCA official support for CETA is contingent on technical conditions approval, so it is economical to conduct business.

The CCA also wants reciprocity because European beef is allowed into Canada now, but very little has actually landed.

Some European exporters have said they are willing to accept equivalent standards but EU regulators are concerned over consumer backlash about the different approach to food safety.

In Canada and the United States, it is the responsibility of the packer to produce the safest food possible, whereas the Europeans believe it is up to the consumer to properly cook it.

“As long as it was acceptable under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency system, it should be acceptable under here. That has always been our preferred Canadian approach but not the way the European Commission wants to do it,” Masswohl said.

Canada needs allies to support its position. Great Britain had agreed with Canada, but its decision to quit the EU has raised uncertainty.

“We need to find allies who would like to see science actually prevail,” said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the CCA.

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