COOL could affect cattle marketing

VERNON, B.C. — The latest version of the U.S. country-of-origin labelling law could force producers to make hard decisions when they sell cattle this fall.

“It is going to affect the direction our cattle go,” said British Columbia feedlot owner Bill Freding of Oliver.

Like many other producers close to the border, he relied on open U.S. trade to ship feeder and fat cattle.

Finished cattle were sent to Tyson Foods in Pasco, Washington, and Agri Beef Co. in Toppenish, Wash. Many preferred selling to Agri-Beef because it did not discount Canadian cattle the way Tyson did.

Agri-Beef built a program that promoted beef from the northwestern region regardless of its country of origin.

When the World Trade Organization ruled that COOL violated international agreements, Freding thought the United States would make the necessary changes and end discrimination against Canadian livestock.

“I thought they would be reasonable,” he said in an interview at the BC. Cattlemen’s Association’s annual meeting in Vernon May 23-25.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tightened the rules demanding documentation at every step of the processing chain rather than accepting livestock processed in an American plant as product of the U.S. To maintain identity, cattle are sorted by nationality and may be killed on certain days or at the end of a shift.

“It doesn’t make sense to me as to why they would do this,” Freding said.

Alternatives were sought when the law went into effect in 2008.

More feedlots in B.C. have switched to backgrounding cattle until they reach 900 pounds, but other threats, such as a shortage of high priced feed and too many months of losses, could force more out of business.

Dave Solverson, vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the costs of COOL have been substantial at many levels.

Each province pays an allocation to cover their share of the association’s legal fees. About $2 million of check-off money has been spent.

The CCA has estimated that the law has cost $640 million, or $25 to $40 per head. The losses could be even higher under the revised rule if more plants decide they do not want to handle Canadian cattle.

“This new rule could triple the annual costs,” said Solverson.

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