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From: TSS ()
Subject: BSE testing debate heat up again
Date: December 20, 2006 at 8:00 pm PST

BSE testing debate heat up again 12.20.2006

By Larry Thomas —The debate over voluntary testing of carcasses for BSE flared up again in Alberta last month and was to be thrashed out at the annual meeting of the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) before this issue arrives in your mailbox.
It was the third time cattle producers have tried to get their elected representatives to call on government to approve BSE testing.

This time, the debate had some added fuel as a new study done for the ABP showed producers lost an average $512 on cull cows sold after BSE hit in 2003. A situation that isn’t likely to improve so long as the U.S. border remains closed to Canadian OTM (over 30 month) cattle.

The study only added to the general feeling of discontent brought on this fall by slumping cattle markets and fears that Canada is once again becoming overly reliant on the U.S. market at a time when the Congress is dominated by more protectionist Democrats. Some see BSE testing as the only way to regain unfettered access to markets like Japan where testing proponents claim the opportunity exists to export $1.5 billion worth of beef per year.

Producers in Okotoks, Alta., asked the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) to at least try to find out if foreign markets would accept a BSE-free product. “I submit that ABP’s and CCA’s complete reluctance and refusal to discuss BSE testing has helped to hold this captive market on OTM beef,” Cam Ostercamp, president of the grassroots Beef Initiative Group, told the meeting. “We’ve been deadlocked in this … argument for 3 years over BSE testing. I can’t prove it’s going to work, you can’t prove that it won’t work. So if, at the very least, ABP and CCA were to pressure the Canadian government into officially asking the question, maybe we could get an answer.”

CCA president Hugh Lynch-Staunton concedes asking the question may bring closure to this issue. “But that does not change the basis for why we do not support BSE market access testing and those arguments against testing remain valid today,” he says.

Based on its own surveys the CCA believes allowing BSE testing for exports would encourage Canadians to ask for the same assurances. That, in turn, could lead to testing of all carcasses as packers move to protect their own brands and avoid exposure to future liabilities.

“Then it becomes an added cost and a major one at that. Not just the cost of the test and process but the logistical costs of those false [BSE] positives stopping the lines in packing plants,” explains Lynch-Staunton. “And the test is not a definitive one. Producers must be made aware of this important fact. It can build a false sense of security. The issue of food safety is to remove that Specified Risk Material (SRM) and if you do that it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Surveys done for the Beef Information Centre show Americans and Canadians are not concerned about BSE in beef. However, the same data suggests BSE testing for exports would create competitive issues within Canada’s food service and retail sectors that would add costs and make beef less competitive with pork and poultry.

The test kits alone run between $18 and $30 apiece. But plant costs would also be substantial, especially the charges for handling false positives in large operations. At some point in-line testing would have to be implemented. Once the head is removed, the carcass as well as blood, organs and offal would have to be gathered and held along with the carcass until they were cleared. And whenever a false positive showed up the entire batch would have to be held for a second test.

Would the CCA change its tune about BSE testing if the U.S. continues to stall the passing of their rule on OTM cattle and beef?

“It’s that Rule 2 and cows that remain a big concern to us,” says Lynch-Staunton. “Quite frankly, I guess I wouldn’t mind exporters testing if I didn’t have the strong suspicion it would become the norm. And that extra cost would fall onto the shoulders of producers.”

Finally, the CCA says science must set the rules. “We take a real risk when we depart from the best science because our credibility is based on honesty,” says Lynch-Staunton. “If we start playing games with people some day I think that could come around to bite us.”

Posing the question
Ted Haney, president of the Canada Beef Export Federation (CBEF), recently looked into how a question from Canada about BSE testing would be received in foreign markets.

In Japan, for example, it would be sent first to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests. From there it would be passed to the Food Safety Commission and then to their prion expert committee for consideration. The decision would work back slowly in reverse order.

“Because that request would be inconsistent with our current rules for access to Japan, it would have to be a new assessment by the Japanese; either an amendment or a completely new deal,” Haney explains.

A period of public consultation would almost certainly be required at some point in the process as well as technical assessments by experts from outside the department. The Japanese would also require government monitoring of the process and certification by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency so new procedures would have to be drafted, negotiated and approved by both governments.

Haney says CBEF has no official position on BSE testing, but has sampled opinion in Japan.

“The Japanese assessment shows retailers would appreciate this testing because it would allow Canadian beef to be sold on the same basis as domestic beef,” says Haney. “They believe consumers would respond positively to it because they’ve already become accustomed to purchasing domestic BSE-certified beef.”

From the trade perspective, Haney says Japanese importers and Canadian exporters believe BSE testing would be received positively if it results in a higher percentage of Canadian carcasses qualifying for Japanese export. It would address year-round supply challenges, especially for well-marbled, grain-fed Canadian beef.

Of course, those attitudes might change if Japan drops its own policy of testing every carcass for BSE. The budget runs out on that program in August 2007.
If they don’t stop testing altogether they may reduce the cost by testing only animals of 24, 26 or even 30 months of age. Last month USDA secretary Mike Johanns said he would ask Japan to remove the age limit on imports of U.S. beef rather than extend it to 30 months because age is no longer part of the international standard for meat shipments. Wish he would pass that news along to his underlings at the USDA.

holy mad cow, you would think that gw and johanns were up in canada running there ag department.
a mirror of the usda's theology of saying to hell with public health, lets just shove all this potential BSE/TSE tainted product down the throat of every consumer out there, home or abroad. what they don't know, will not hurt them. besides, if we test, we will find, this has been proven, so DONT TEST. seems to be the going thing now with GWs and OIEs BSE MRR policy. ...TSS

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