Just to clarify why Canadians have all manner of sympathy for American cattle producers -- but not much for US government agencies.
This story is in today's Globe & Mail.
Ottawa emphasizes BSE expertise
By DREW FAGAN
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
Canadian officials took a simple message to Washington as they sought to reopen the border after the discovery of a single case of mad-cow disease on an Alberta farm last May: If it could happen to us, they said, it could happen to you.
And now it has.
The announcement by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman yesterday that a preliminary test on a single cow in Washington state has come back positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy sent Canadian officials scrambling last night to decide how to react.
The federal government's newly formed cabinet committee on security, public health and emergencies -- chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan -- held a conference call into the evening involving its 11 members. Agriculture Minister Bob Speller was one of the first people to speak to Ms. Veneman after she dropped her bombshell and emphasized her continued confidence in the safety of the U.S. beef supply.
The message to Washington now, though, is hardly "I told you so."
"That gets you nowhere," a senior Canadian official said.
Instead, Ottawa is emphasizing the expertise gained during the past seven months that it can now share with Washington. This includes how to investigate for BSE; how to help ensure it doesn't spread; what special regulatory measures need to be put into place; how to maintain the safety of the processing industry; how to ensure the public doesn't overreact to the threat; and finally, what protocols are necessary in case the border is closed.
Canadian officials did not rule out last night a new closing of the border, saying that a decision will be taken only after a final determination is made of whether the U.S. cow has the disease.
(The United States did not close the border to Canadian beef and live cattle after the preliminary test results in Alberta, but waited for the final test. That likely will be tomorrow in this instance.)
To critics of the Canadian response to the U.S.-invoked border closing last May, this may all seem inappropriate and somewhat knock-kneed. For months, the government of Jean Chrétien was criticized for not working hard enough to get the border reopened.
But, in fact, the federal government did manage to reopen the border to most beef shipments in September and shipments of live cattle are expected to resume in early 2004. Such a rapid resumption of trade after a finding of BSE, Canadian officials emphasize, is unprecedented internationally.
"This is an industry that is beleaguered," the Canadian official said. "But it is a North American industry, without question."
In fact, while the continental industry is entirely integrated -- or was until last May -- there is a huge imbalance between Canadian dependence on the U.S. market and U.S. dependence on the Canadian market. Although U.S. producers generally export marginally more beef than Canadian producers, most U.S. beef is consumed in the United States.
In contrast, Canadian producers generally depend on export markets for the sale of about half of all live cattle and meat, and more than 90 per cent of those exports go to the United States.
In other words, even if the federal government does decide to close the border to U.S. shipments, it won't hurt U.S. producers nearly as much as the U.S. ban hurt Canadian producers. The acid test for the U.S. industry will be at home: Do American consumers decide to avoid beef?
Last night, Canadian officials were examining how to react. The decision, they said, won't have anything to do with a tit-for-tat trade philosophy. The border decision by Ottawa "won't be based on politics but on public health based on science, pure and simple," the Canadian official said.
And those Canadian officials who spent so much time saying "it could happen to you" will bite their tongues.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.