Beef levy benefits sector

Beginning as early as autumn, the Canadian beef industry could be in a position to collect $1 per head on imported beef with the money earmarked for research and promotion.

The levy, similar to import levies applied to Canadian beef imports in other countries, was announced July 30 at an eastern Ontario farm with agriculture minister Gerry Ritz and the cattle industry singing its praises.

Canada Beef, which will administer the fund, estimates it will raise up to $800,000 annually for investment in the industry. Importers will collect the levy and pass it on.

“This will provide a stable income for the industry for research, market development and promotion,” said Ritz.

Canada Beef chair Chuck MacLean said the announcement is the result of years of work and planning.

“It will strengthen the ability of Canada Beef to benefit from a more equitable relationship with our trading partners,” he said.

Several months will be required to work out the bureaucracy of collecting the levy and getting it to Canada Beef, whose board will decide how it is invested.

The announcement came after amendments to a levy order were issued under the authority of the Farm Products Council of Canada. It was based on 1993 legislative amend-ments that allowed the creation of a levy if a national sector had established an agency and charged the same levy on domestic sales.

It was a sweet day for FPCC chair Laurent Pellerin, a former Canadian Federation of Agriculture president who Ritz appointed to the council several years ago.

Since his appointment, the former Quebec hog producer has been urging Canadian farm sectors to make use of the two-decade-old law.

“The money is there to be collected,” he said.

“I never understood why people weren’t using it.”

He said the cattle industry’s move will allow other sectors to see how the levy works and the benefits it brings. Raspberry and strawberry farmers are looking at the option, while pork and potato sectors have shown some interest, he said.

“I think there will be more, and cattle led the way,” said Pellerin.

“As long as someone is doing it, others see that it can be done. And I use the argument that as long as you meet the rules, it is only fair because others put a levy on our exports.”

Ritz told reporters that the levy will cause no trade problems with the United States because it simply is following the rules. It is not trade retaliation.

However, he then raised the spectre of country-of-origin labelling.

Asked why it had taken farmers 20 years to take advantage of collecting money through import levies, he suggested part of the problem was getting the industry to organize itself.

“Too many cooks spoil the soup sometimes,” he said. “In some way, COOL refocused everyone’s efforts since if the Americans can do this, let’s put this money in place.”

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