by JIM ALGIE
South Korea’s decision to suspend quarantine inspections for Canadian beef imports following last week’s discovery of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in an Alberta cow comes within weeks of a new free trade agreement between the two countries.
However, both Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Canadian Cattlemen’s Association government relations manager John Masswohl expect a current Canadian Food Inspection Agency investigation will lead to quick resumption of beef trade.
In a statement emailed Tuesday by Ritz’s press secretary Jeffrey English, the minister emphasized Korea’s relatively limited marketplace for beef and Canada’s existing “controlled risk status” in connection with BSE under international guidelines.
“The World Organization for Animal Health recognizes Canada as a controlled risk status country and we expect our trading partners to continue to recognize this status,” Ritz said. He described the suspended inspections as a “temporary trade disruption.”
“South Korea represented roughly 1.25 per cent of Canada’s beef exports last year,” Ritz said. “Using Canada's strong controls system the government is working to fix this temporary trade disruption as soon as possible,” the minister said.
Masswohl noted that only last week, International Trade Minister Ed Fast was in a Seoul supermarket helping promote Canadian beef sales.
“And the Koreans were buying it,” Masswohl said in an interview Tuesday, referring to Korean interest in beef during last week’s Canadian trade mission to promote the benefits of Jan. 1 implementation of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Last Thursday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed BSE in an Alberta cow and launched a continuing investigation. It was Canada’s first confirmed case of BSE since 2011 and government and cattle industry officials said at the time it should not affect Canada’s beef trade.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency investigators are seeking details of the infected Alberta animal’s age and herd history, an agency statement said at the time of the announcement. The agency has yet to announce further developments in the investigation which it said “will focus on the feed supplied to the animal during the first year of its life.”
Identified through existing surveillance measures, the animal has been described only as a “beef cow from Alberta.” The agency did say no part of the diseased animal entered human food or animal feed systems.
Masswohl said he has learned investigators have tracked the infected animal to its birth farm, also in Alberta, and that farmers involved have been cooperative with the inquiry.
Canada’s current “controlled risk” status followed adoption in 2007 of enhanced surveillance measures and a ban on most animal-source proteins including potentially infectious materials from all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers. Until recently, CFIA had estimated Canada could seek reclassification to “negligible” risk status by the spring of 2016.
That could change, however, if CFIA investigators find the most recent case involves an animal born later than 2004, Masswohl said. Canada currently meets all but one criteria for seeking “negligible risk” standing under international standards by spring of 2016.
“The last criteria is it has to have been 11 years since the date of birth of your latest-born case,” Masswohl said. “So, our latest-born case . . . pending this investigation was born late in 2004,” he said.
“With our latest-born case in 2004 we could apply this coming fall for approval in the spring of 2016,” Masswohl said. “We don’t know, yet, whether this case is going to affect that,” he said.
The investigation should also clarify future trade with South Korea. Masswohl emphasized the Korean decision to suspend inspections does not amount to a ban.
“The difference from the Canadian side is very little; it means we can’t get our beef into Korea,” he said. However, it creates a less onerous process for the reinstatement of trade once Canadian officials can reassure their Korean counterparts.
“It’s an administrative difference,” Masswohl said comparing suspended inspections with a ban. “Our expectation is . .. Canada can provide that assurance that Canadian beef is safe,” he said. “Once that information is provided we expect Korea will act very quickly,” Masswohl said. BF