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Beef Industry Wants Canadian Feed Ban Rules Changed

Canada's beef industry wants Ottawa to change feed ban rules that were brought in to help eliminate mad cow disease, so producers can better compete with the U.S.

EDMONTON, Alberta (CP) -- Canada's beef industry wants Ottawa to change feed ban rules that were brought in to help eliminate mad cow disease, so producers can better compete with the United States.

Last July, the federal government banned the use of spinal cords, cattle brains and other so-called ''specified risk material'' which may contain bovine spongiform encephalopathy from all animal feed, pet foods and fertilizer.

Starting next April, Washington plans to bring in less comprehensive and less expensive feed ban rules for American producers to guard against BSE.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association is now lobbying Ottawa to harmonize Canada's feed ban rules with those south of the border, said John Masswohl, the association's director of international relations.

''What the U.S. is doing is the approach the Canadian Cattlemen's Association was asking for all along in Canada,'' Masswohl said Monday from Ottawa. ''We have no difficulty asking for Canada to adopt the U.S. approach.''

The new feed ban rule published in late April by the Food and Drug Administration bans the use of brains and spinal cords of cattle over 30 months of age from all animal feed and pet foods. The rule is to go into effect next year.

The Canadian rules are more stringent. They also ban the use of skulls, eyes, tonsils, nerve bundles and part of the small intestine of all cattle. The Canadian rules also apply to fertilizer, while the U.S. rule does not.

While specific financial figures aren't available, the association estimates the cost to Canadian producers of meeting the more stringent rules is worth millions of dollars per year to an industry already struggling from the higher cost of cattle feed and labor and a soaring loonie.

Masswohl said the beef industry would like the feed ban rules to be harmonized within two to three years. Until that happens the association is asking the federal government to pay about $25 million per year to help defray the cost of disposing of risk material, he said.

The association warns the future of Canada's beef slaughtering sector is at stake.

Earlier this year Gencor Foods Inc. cited the cost of meeting Canada's feed ban rules as part of its decision to close its beef slaughter facility in Kitchener, Ont., throwing 124 people out of work. Rancher's Beef near Calgary filed for bankruptcy last August.

Cargill Ltd. officials cited the cost of dealing with the new feed ban last summer as one of the factors in its decision to cut its Better Beef plant workforce in Guelph, Ont., by 300 jobs.

Tyson Foods' Lakeside Packers plant in Brooks, Alta., reported first-quarter losses this year, in part because of higher operating costs.

''Some smaller ones are gone. I think there are more closures that are going to happen. And there are some of the larger companies that I believe are in jeopardy,'' he said. ''This regulation has a big thing to do with it.''

Masswohl said the Harper government has yet to formally respond to its harmonization proposal. The association and other players in the beef and cattle industry are to sit down with federal officials in Ottawa later this week for talks on the proposal and other policies.

Neither Agriculture Canada nor Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials was immediately available for comment.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association represents about 90,000 beef producers.

The association estimates producers have lost about $8 billion since May 2003 when BSE was discovered in an Alberta cow. Since then there have been a total of 12 cases of mad cow disease discovered in Canada.

Masswohl said Canadian consumers would have nothing to fear if Canada harmonized its feed ban rules with the United States. Harmonization would mean it would take longer to eradicate BSE, but the safety of beef itself would not be affected.

''It is important for people to understand that this enhanced feed ban isn't about the safety of the beef. We know that the beef is safe because both Canada and the U.S. are removing all the specified risk material from all food that humans eat,'' he said.

It isn't clear how the World Organization of Animal Health, which considers both Canada and the United States to be controlled risk countries, would react to such a change, he said. Canada's decision to impose a strict feed ban may have been an impressive sales pitch to global markets, he added, but that won't mean much if tough rules help kill the country's beef slaughter facilities.

''We have to really wonder if having a good sales pitch when you don't have an industry is the right road to be going down.''