Increased processing capacity and negligible BSE status are goals for the sector
By Jackie Clark
Cargill’s beef processing plant on Dunlop Drive in Guelph was back operational again on Dec. 29, after idling as of Dec. 17 to address an outbreak of COVID-19 among employees. Processing capacity remains a critical issue for the beef industry in Ontario.
“I think our biggest concern always was the plant closing because we were experiencing backlog before COVID hit, so we’ve seen it be amplified a bit at the end of December,” Rob Lipsett, president of Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO), told Farms.com.
“The silver lining I can find is that the timing of it was as good as it could be, considering the plant was going to be shut down for several days over the holidays,” he said. “Some of our producers were expecting that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of cattle movement at that time anyways – but there were a few that were affected.”
The government was able to provide some financial support for producers.
“The set-aside program was triggered very quickly,” Lipsett explained. “We’ve got quite a few cattle that have been put on (the program) through two intakes. And I think that reassured some of the producers that there is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel that government understood they needed to come forward, step up and help us through.”
BFO estimates that the shutdown resulted in a backlog of about 10,000 cattle that should have gone for processing that are now in the set-aside program.
“We’ll have to find a home for in the march-April timeframe,” Lipsett added.
Moving forward “processing capacity is our number one priority,” he said. “It has been for close to two years now. The pandemic has just given us a great example of what happens when you don’t have that proper capacity.”
BFO is continuing to lobby the government to address the lack of processing capacity.
“The pandemic has actually gotten the government’s attention to what the processing problem in Eastern Canada is, and so we’ve started down the road on some short-term and long-term solutions,” Lipsett explained. “The announcement from the federal and provincial government about a new stream of the CAP funding program to allow processors to do some health and safety and good safety upgrades and technology upgrades were a really welcome announcement but I think they’ve also acknowledged that more needs to be done.”
BFO is pushing for the adoption of their framework, dubbed the Processor Infrastructure Support Fund, he added. “That would include no-interest, low-interest cost sharing and some kind of repayable loans for processors and abattoirs to undergo some costly expansion projects.”
The other main priority of the beef industry is the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) status.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association “submitted our application to change our BSE risk status from controlled to negligible,” Lipsett said. “A decision will be made on that this spring … getting that negligible risk status changes our trade vision with South Korea and the United States, so we continue to press the importance of that.”
Food safety regulations include a “specified risk materials list that Canada has to adhere to,” he added. “We’ve started the work on harmonizing removal requirements with that of the U.S.”