Producers reject U.S. beef boycott

Consumers have been urged on social media to stop buying American beef because of recent U.S. trade actions

Boycotting American beef as a retaliatory response to U.S. trade sanctions would harm rather than help Canadian producers, says the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, prompting Canada to impose its own new tariffs as of July 1, social media has been alive with urgings to #buyCanadian and #boycottUSA.

Uncertainty over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has added fuel to those fires.

“Eat the beef,” said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations with the CCA.

“Anybody that thinks that boycotting American beef is going to be good for Canadian producers has not examined the facts.”

Masswohl said Canada exports about three times more cattle and beef to the U.S. than it imports, and 75 percent of Canadian beef and cattle exports go to the U.S.

They are valued at about $3 billion and just under half that is in live cattle sent to the U.S. for either slaughter or feeding to finish.

That means some of the beef entering Canada from the U.S. likely has Canadian origins.

“It’s all about the integration in the marketplace. We trade with each other because it’s beneficial for both of us. So, to suddenly say, ‘I’m not going to have their product,’ you know ultimately, we’re probably more dependent on them than they are on us, and that’s I think a losing game,” Masswohl said.

Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers, said he hasn’t heard about any organized effort to boycott American beef but given the popularity and reputation of Alberta beef, that may not be a surprise.

“I don’t know anybody who buys American beef in this land of Alberta beef here,” said Smith.

“From our perspective, it would be our wish that beef not be involved in any way in a trade dispute with the United States. The U.S. cattle and beef producers, just as the Mexican cattle and beef producers, are on our side. They join us in wanting free trade in beef and cattle across both borders.”

Some prepared foods with beef as an ingredient are on Canada’s list of U.S. goods on which it imposed a 10 percent tariff. They include beef jerky, meatballs, beef pies, stews, cooked ground beef and TV dinners with beef.

“In terms of value of trade impacted, the category including beef jerky saw C$170 million of imports from the U.S. to Canada in 2017 and the prepared meals category covered $42 million in 2017. Devaluing any U.S. beef product can negatively affect the demand for Canadian cattle from which such products may have been produced,” the CCA said in its July 9 newsletter.

Masswohl said any effect on the beef industry as a result of tariffs on prepared foods containing beef has not been noticeable, in part because they are so new.

As for boycott stirrings, he said potentially antagonizing Canada’s largest beef export market is “extremely short-sighted and counterproductive.”

“Being the guy who spends an awful lot of time going to all these state cattle meetings over the years, building the relationships and trying to convince Americans why it’s a good thing to have a good relationship with them, because it’s in both of our interests to do it … it seems from that perspective a very bad idea to poke them in the eye.”

Masswohl is optimistic that current trade tensions will be sorted out.

“It may be a rocky ride on the way to getting there, but it will get fixed.”

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