Outbreak a concern, but not a big impact

Alberta Beef Producers organization provides producers with answers as crisis continues to grow

Concerns remain high among cattle producers in the province as the bovine tuberculosis situation continues to grow.

As of last week, more than 40 farms with five of those in Saskatchewan, representing just over 22,000 animals are under quarantine following the discovery of one case in late October.

That one cow, found in a United States facility, came from a herd on a southern Alberta farm where five more confirmed infected cows have been found. Those other cases were originally linked to six farms, and due to co-mingling, another 12 farms have been added to that list. That will translate into more than 10,000 animals being slaughtered from those farms.

Rich Smith, executive director of the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), explained that all producers are concerned about what has been happening though the situation shouldn’t extend much past those directly affected.

“Everyone is concerned and sympathetic for those caught up in it,” he said in a phone interview.

“We all understand the impact this is having on those producers. However, this situation will be no real affect on the markets or trade.”

He did state there is some apprehension out there as the situation continues to grow and over how far it may extend.

“What I can say is there are no signs of panic among producers and because the number of animals involved isn’t huge, there is no real reason for any producers outside those affected to take any significant action,” Smith said.

A couple of factors leading the ABP to that conclusion are the recent financial assistance packages announced for the affected producers, and the climb in calf prices over the last six weeks.

Last week, Lawrence MacAulay, federal Agriculture and Agri-Food minister along with Oneil Carlier, Alberta Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, released an initiative under the AgriRecovery framework that will cover extraordinary costs for quarantined farms. Producers can also access funds up to $400,000 through the Advance Payments Program.

Meanwhile, the slide in calf prices that began back in March has swung back up in the past month and a half, according to Smith.

“We have seen at auctions over the last six weeks, prices continuing to rise along with an increase in feed cattle prices,” he said.

“This is all certainly a positive for the industry, in spite of the devastating situation some are facing. Producers are always wary about prices when something negative occurs, but right now we are not seeing that happen.”

Another positive, though it took some time to get there, is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has improved its response to the outbreak, with Smith stating the industry remains concerned with the organization’s initial response.

“There were two issues of concern, and to CFIA’s credit, they have taken steps to address those,” he stated.

“The first was not adequately or quickly communicating with producers then going too slow with their capacity to test animals.”

Smith added the CFIA took 26 days to start testing with one team, before listening to industry and increasing to four teams in hopes of completing testing before Christmas.