It?s more than a bit late, but at least the federal Liberals have taken their heads out of the sand. Finally, they?ve recognized they can no longer leave the fate of the country?s entire beef industry hanging in the balance while they cross their fingers and hope the U.S. border will re-open to Canadian beef ?any day now?.
Until last week, the federal government had based its strategy to combat the BSE crisis, which began when a single infected cow was found on an Alberta farm in May 2003, upon the assumption that the U.S. ban of our beef would have been over long ago. During the election campaign, defeated Agriculture Minister Bob Speller confidently predicted that ?September is the worse case scenario? for an open border.
Fortunately, three days after Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper demanded the government immediately reconvene Parliament to help Canadian livestock producers in crisis, and seven months after the Conservative Party released its detailed BSE Action Plan, the new Agriculture Minister, Andy Mitchell, finally cobbled together a proposal.
While there are many similarities between the Minister?s ideas and the Conservative BSE Action Plan, which was hammered out in consultation with major industry groups, it?s now a case of too little too late.
The situation is much worse today than it was when the Conservative plan was released in February. Plus the $488-million federal package is lacking in sufficient funds and details to ensure the money actually gets to struggling farmers in time.
Though many farmers are still waiting for Canadian Agriculture Income Support (CAIS) cash advances for 2003, CAIS is again administering delivery of this new cash. Plus, little relief has been offered to cow-calf operators, and details are still sketchy on the feeder set aside program, which at $200 a head will not be enough if only 15 percent of the herd is covered.
It?s also unlikely that the $66-million allocated to increase slaughter capacity is sufficient for the industry, which is expecting its largest fall calf run in 25 years, with an existing surplus of more than 500,000 head of cattle.
Fortunately, here at home in Prince George-Peace River, the Peace Country Tender Beef Co-op has announced it will complete building its new slaughterhouse facility early in 2005. Processing 200 to 400 head of cattle a day with the latest technology to test for BSE and trace all meat it processes, the plant will help to alleviate some of the surplus ? and create 60 full-time jobs in our area.
Back in Ottawa, the beef industry is reserving judgement on this latest federal relief program until the cash actually arrives at the farm gate. As for the closed U.S. border, it?s largely a political problem which the Liberals have proven they are neither motivated nor equipped to address.
The Conservative Party?s pleas to immediately recall Parliament to address the issue has been met with silence. While the Prime Minister waits to make his grand entrance in the House of Commons in October, farmers remain on the verge of ruin.