By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Action is coming more quickly to help ranchers in the region caught up in a quarantine to contain bovine tuberculosis, officials say, after local producers testified before a Commons committee this week.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials told reporters Friday no new positive tests for the disease have been reported as examination of nearly 22,000 animals nears the halfway mark.
Also, federal and provincial officials are working on a agri-recovery relief program to help ranchers with carrying costs, and industry is about to present its plan to a federal regulator for an interim feedlot facility to help winter calves.
Three area ranchers and four area MPs attended the Standing Committee on Agriculture Tuesday in Ottawa, hoping to draw attention to the situation, which they argue has caused crisis for local producers.
“I’m pleased that there is some movement on the issue,” said Glen Motz, MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, whose riding is home to most of the 36 ranches.
He helped petition the committee to hold the hearing and said the goal was three-fold: to draw the attention of the federal government, to increase the information coming from food inspectors to producers and to begin a relief program.
Motz said he was pleased that the Liberal-dominated committee agreed to schedule to hear the issue on relatively short notice
“You have to remember that this was Conservatives reaching out,” said Motz, who was encouraged by Friday’s news that no new positives had been found.
Tuesday’s meeting was attended by Motz, Martin Shields (Bow River) and Kevin Sorenson (Battle River-Crowfoot).
David Anderson, MP for Cypress-Grasslands in southwest Saskatchewan, is a member of the committee made up of six Liberal MPs, three Tories and one NDP.
During testimony, Brad Osadczuk of Jenner, who owns the index herd, said his operation and those of his neighbours have been turned upside down since September when he was told by the CFIA that one of his cows had been flagged at a U.S. slaughter house
“It’s been the worst two months of my life,” he told the committee.
He said movement bans are particularly difficult to absorb in the fall when calves are usually sent to auction.
Jenner-area producer Ross White said he had contracted to deliver his steers in the last week of October, just as the quarantine was put in place.
“It’s put buyers in a hard spot, and we’ve lost above market profit this year,” sad White, who added he is concerned about future sales as well as land values in the area.
“We may be quarantined by (cattle) buyers long after the CFIA is done.”
Ranchers typically only store enough feed to account for heifers, which are sold in the spring.
Now, calves are not yet weaned, raising questions about the long-term effect on his breeding stock, he said.
Also more feed will be required when winter sets in, pasture and water sources will see much greater than usual use this winter.
Patricia-area rancher Warren Henry said he feels like his hands are tied: he can’t buy breeding bulls and can’t afford more feed without going into debt.
“It’s certainly happened at the worst time,” Alberta Ag Minister Oneil Carlier told the News on Friday.
The detection program would likely mean no general trade restrictions. He was impressed by a Beef Producers initiative to host calves at a temporary feedlot.
“It’s an innovative idea and I think it’s absolutely necessary,” said Carlier.
Federal compensation funds for destroyed animals would likely arrive next week, officials said. Development on a agri-recovery fund program with Ottawa for all affected producers was ongoing, said Carlier.
“We’ll do everything we can do to help with that process,” he said.
Saskatchewan officials are also involved in discussions, said federal officials.
“The agri-recovery program specifically targets the costs involved and certainly one of the costs will be feeding the animals,” said Ag Canada officials during a media call Friday. “We’re working closely with Alberta (Agriculture).”