Cattle groups call for set-aside program in response to COVID-19 issues

The need for a set-aside program to manage orderly cattle slaughter has become more pressing with the loss of a shift at one of Western Canada’s largest federal processing plants.

The Cargill plant at High River moved to one shift instead of two earlier this week in response to COVID-related issues involving workers ill with the virus and protection of remaining staff. That reduced its daily capacity to about 1,500 cattle from the former level of about 4,500 daily.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and National Cattle Feeders Association renewed their calls today for the federal government to assist in funding a set-aside program that allow increased organization of cattle heading to slaughter to better match available processing speed and capacity.

The two groups had earlier called on the federal government to fund a program for eastern Canada, where slaughter capacity has been reduced for months, but now a national program is needed, they said.

“With the reduction in slaughter capacity, we certainly see that we are now in that critical situation all across Canada,” said Fawn Jackson, CCA director of government relations. “Now this problem is extending from coast to coast.

“What we essentially need to do is slow down the supply chain as we don’t have the processing capacity that we normally would have.”

A cattle set-aside program was implemented in 2003-04 during the BSE crisis, so the needed background is there, she added.

“At that time what we did was develop this set aside program and so we know it works best, and we also know the importance of urgently implementing the program to limit the impact on Canada’s farmers and ranchers and the whole supply chain.”

Under such a program, a committee of government and cattle industry representatives would assess the number of cattle in the supply chain and the available slaughter capacity. Producers could identify cattle they would be willing to hold back, by putting them on maintenance rations rather than growth rations.

In the early days of a program, priority would be given to fat cattle already fit for slaughter. However, feeder cattle and cull cows would also become part of the program as it progressed.

Jackson said quick response from the federal government to help fund a set-aside program would limit economic damage to the industry.

“We have made that recommendation. We have highlighted it again this week, and the importance of urgently implementing this, with the federal government.”


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