WINCHESTER - Despite the fact that the US border remains closed to Canadian cattle, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) Dr. Brian Evans strongly believes that Canada will get through the BSE crisis and resume normal trade - as long as sound biological science takes precedence over politics.
Speaking at the fifth annual Eastern Ontario Beef Day in Winchester on Saturday, Evans told about 100 beef producers that surviving BSE is something that is very near and dear to his heart, and, speaking frankly and passionately, he tried to provide as many answers as he could.
"We certainly believe this is an industry that is in big demand in terms of what we produce and how we produce it," he said. "This will pass, though certainly not fast enough for any of us."
Evans says one of the big frustrations for him and others is that real, biological science has been overshadowed by other factors.
"At the end of the day, we come together because we firmly believe this is an industry and a country that produces the best quality genetics in the world," he said. "I see that when I speak to producers and governments around the world, and that our food safety system is one they respect sincerely. If we could get beyond some of the political and economic issues and get back to a real world of operating, I think those countries would be glad to have Canada as part of their market."
Evans does not think there is a big gap between what he and his counterpart Dr. Ron DeHaven in the US or CVOs in other countries thinks about BSE.
"I think when we talk face-to-face on these issues (BSE and other threats), there's a general consensus that Canada has done the right things...but that there are processes above them that make it virtually impossible for the biological science to be the only factor considered," he said.
Evans, who represents Canada at the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), offered some hope when he spoke about OIE proposals for adoption this May that should be good news for Canadians.
He is confident the OIE will include skeletal muscle meat as an unrestricted trade item, so if a country has BSE, no country can block trade in that commodity as long as the country is removing specified risk materials (SRM), and slaughter procedures keep muscle meat from being contaminated with SRM.
Evans also expects the OIE to adopt a three-level country classification system. The categories are negligible or no risk, negligible risk with mitigating measures, and risk.
In the first category, countries can conclusively prove they've never imported live cattle, meat, bonemeal or animal feed from a country that has had BSE and that they have never used meat and bonemeal derived from animals in their feed.
In the second category, which Canada would fit into, a country has been exposed to BSE, but the disease is reportable, they are doing the proper surveillance, there's high producer awareness, SRM is being removed from human food, and a feed ban is in place.
"Legitimately, we're saying there are a number of countries out there that have been exposed to BSE, that have done the right thing," Evans said. "It's time to move on and re-establish trade with those countries in the appropriate way."
The third category essentially says a country has not looked for BSE and doesn't know if it has been exposed and is a risk.
Evans says the OIE will likely also adopt a common definition of SRM, and the negligible risk countries will adopt Canada's definition, which includes the removal of the distal ileum (the end portion of the small intestine) from all animals at slaughter.
A clear definition of what constitutes surveillance is the other major OIE proposal, ensuring countries are, like Canada, testing animals at the farm level very early in the stages of BSE detection.
Evans does see some bright spots on the BSE-devastated landscape.
Tunisia and Lebanon are willing to import replacement cattle, and Cuba and Mexico are "just at the edge of getting live cattle moving again."
Evans is also confident there is a future for the next generation of producers.
He says the world's population will double to some 50 billion people in the next 30 years. As well, he expects Europe will no longer be self-sufficient in its own beef production within the next five years.
Evans believes that in the next several years, the world is going to realize that certain geographic areas have to become the source of 90 per cent of the production to feed the world, and he thinks Canada will be one of them.
"I guarantee you we will get BSE behind us," he said. "Probably the next generation of producers or the generation after that...they should have a secure economic future based on what you do and how you do it."
The future of these next generations is currently in the hands of the US courts, after the Montana District Court granted R-CALF a preliminary injunction and stopped the planned March 7 opening of the border.
Lately, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been very busy, as R-CALF continues to fight to keep Canadian cattle out of the country.
On March 21, the National Meat Association (NMA) filed an appeal to be an intervenor in the R-CALF USA vs. United States Department of Agriculture lawsuit.
On March 30, the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the North American Meat Processors Association filed an amicus brief to support the NMA's appeal.
R-CALF has gotten into the action by requesting that producers and consumer groups join an amicus brief that they were to file with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on April 4 that opposes the NMA's appeal.
The USDA has appealed the R-CALF injunction, and briefing and oral argument will take place in the coming months.