BSE's lasting impact on surveillance, traceability, and Canada's world-class food system

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Nathan Phinney, now president of the Canadian Cattle Association, was just finished university and ready to ship some fat cattle for a decent pay day when the BSE news hit.

The beef producer from New Brunswick says the impact of the BSE finding in 2003 was a “crippling blow” to not just cattle prices, but to the entire farm business and the industry at large. At the time, his own farm had to make the tough call to downsize and lay off staff and change gears, a pullback the industry has not yet bounced back from, Phinney says.

Coming back to present day, Phinney says the BSE crisis put a magnifying glass to Canada’s food surveillance system and the system was ready. Of the 19 total cases of cattle born in Canada who have tested positive for BSE, not one animal entered the food supply or animal food chain, Phinney says, proof that our systems work.

“In the long game, we’re more prepared, we can track better, we can report quicker [because of BSE]. I think we have a world class food system here that does all the surveillance as needed to have confidence in our products,” Phinney says.

Traceability of livestock is still a hot topic among livestock producers, with additional layers being added often, and Phinney says there’s a cost associated with it that can, at times, be contentious.

“But [traceability] has strengthened our industry, and has made our industry throughout the globe seen as a model that should be replicated. And I hope that our government sees that, and our producers stand behind that,” he says.

There’s more to be said, too, about the number of farmers and ranchers that were forced to leave the industry — Phinney feels that conditions are right for the cattle value chain to rebuild.

“Demand globally has got to a point that we’ve never seen before, and the markets are driving that…with what we’re seeing in our demand and where our supply chain is in the North American market, it signals some growth,” Phinney says. “And we’re hoping, you know, this is something that’s going to take place in the next few years. I think we’ve basically flatlined it and hopefully we can get that curve going in the right direction and see some growth here.”

Click here for more BSE Crisis 2o years later coverage.

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