World Trade Organization ruling may lower beef prices at till

Canada and Mexico won the final round of appeals at the World Trade Organization

By Cam Fortems

Kamloops This Week

A decision by United States lawmakers to drop country-of-origin labelling will help ranchers and shoppers at the register, according to an industry representative.

Canada and Mexico won the final round of appeals at the World Trade Organization.

It ruled the United States violated trade rules when it brought in labelling that critics said were disguised protectionist measures to aid American ranchers.

Immediately following the ruling in May, the Canadian government threatened to slap tariffs on a range of goods from the United States, including frozen orange juice, wine, ketchup and pasta, if it did not comply.

Kevin Boon, general manager of B.C. Cattlemen’s Association, said the U.S. did right thing by removing the requirement, something that will save B.C. ranchers and consumers alike.

The labelling law brought with it higher costs to keep Canadian beef separate in feedlots and slaughter plants, for example.

“It [removal of mandatory labelling] will increase the price at home for what the producer is getting,” Boon said.

“It will even out competition. I think it will also give a little relief to the consumer.”

Ranchers are enjoying record-high prices, which are translating to cuts at the counter.

Boon said the measure could stem some retail price increases.

Despite dislike of the regulations, Boon said there is potential benefit in voluntary labelling — something Canadian producers may chose to do in some higher-end markets.

“I can see us labelling ‘product of Canada’ in some applications . . . If it’s mandatory there’s no opportunity for a premium,” he said.

At home, some producers are participating in a 100 per cent B.C. Beef brand now seen in more than 50 restaurants and grocers in B.C.

B.C Association of Abattoirs is rolling out its program that promises steaks and other beef cuts are raised, fed and processed in B.C.

It developed a smartphone app that lets consumers quickly find participating retailers.

Chefs, butchers and retailers can all sign on with the related B.C Beef Network.

Gillian Watt, Kamloops-based executive director for the B.C. Association of Abattoirs, said a sophisticated chain of custody and auditing system backs up the brand.

Under the system, chefs can also order beef from a local producer, including designating the cut to the abattoir, and have it delivered.

“The main thing is it’s born, raised, fed and processed in B.C.,” Watt said.

Regional suppliers include Haughton Ranch, Douglas Lake Ranch, Devick’s Ranch and Cache Creek Natural Beef.

The program is also guaranteed through DNA tracing to back up its claims, Watt said.

“We’re actually auditing it — we’re not just saying it.”

A QR code for smartphone readers is in the works that will let consumers determine where, to the ranch level, their roast originated.

Twenty-four B.C. abattoirs are in the program.

Watt said one of the restrictions in providing B.C. beef from ranch to plate is a shortage of industrial butchers.

While Thompson Rivers University has a retail butcher program, workers need to be trained to cut on a wholesale production standard.

Watt said the association has applied to the province to fund a program at TRU’s Williams Lake campus.