EU deal will trigger new product, markets

Specialized product | Producers raising hormone free cattle for European markets may find other markets open up

CARBERRY, Man. — The free trade deal with the European Union will help beef producers access many other markets as well, they were told during a regional meeting of Manitoba Beef Producers.

Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Martin Unrau said it’s about building enough market demand to allow farmers to start viably producing beef raised without added hormones or antibiotics that is becoming popular around the world.

“The Europe deal is not just about Europe, it’s about raising kind of a different set of animals that fit that market,” Unrau said.

“Those same animals will value-add into China, Russia, Egypt, Taiwan, because they’re also ractopamine-free.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU, which may take years to finalize, allows an additional 50,000 tonnes per year of Canadian beef to be sold to EU countries.

However, EU rules block beef that is produced in the common North American way, including the use of added hormonal products such as ractopamine, which increases feed conversion efficiency.

To sell to European buyers, Canadian producers will have to raise their cattle without added growth promotants and unnecessary antibiotic supplementation.

As well, packers will need to guarantee that the beef is from such animals and that they were born, raised and slaughtered in Canada.

Those are expensive alterations to the present high-productivity cattle production methods now used by almost all farmers, but MBP general manager Cam Dahl said high beef prices in Europe will compensate for a higher cost of production.

“The market for hormone-free, it’s big. It’s big enough to go after.”

Dahl said few packers and farmers would be willing to switch to EU-compliant methods if there wasn’t a sufficiently large market, which makes the additional quota essential.

As well, he said the mechanism in the agreement to establish a system to deal with non-tariff barriers to trade will be key. After Canada’s troubles with American barriers such as country-of-origin labelling and BSE restrictions, establishing a system to dismantle impediments is “perhaps more significant” than the additional quota.

He said the European market should not be seen as small or secondary, considering that the Canadian quota equals about as much as Manitoba produces in a year.

Federal employment minister Jason Kenney told the meeting that the government insisted on the extra beef and pork quota because without it, Canada would not easily evolve to produce enough beef for markets that have similar demands to the EU.

“We wanted to get that number so that there would be a critical mass so that beef producers could go into a specialized product,” he said.

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