Ottawa

'Money out of our pockets': Ottawa meat producers frustrated by China ban

Pork and beef farmers in the Ottawa area say they're frustrated and disappointed agricultural producers are suffering because of a Chinese embargo on their products and hope the Canadian government steps in quickly to mend the trade dispute.

Market price for cattle has dropped 10 per cent in past week, farmer says

Canadian pork and beef products were banned from China earlier this month after officials there said they found traces of a banned feed additive in a shipment. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Pork and beef farmers in the Ottawa area say they're frustrated and disappointed  by a Chinese embargo on their products and hope the Canadian government steps in quickly to mend the trade dispute.

China suspended the import of all meat products from Canada after Chinese officials said they found residue of a restricted feed additive called ractopamine in a pork shipment.

"You can't prepare for something like this," said Dwight Foster, owner of North Gower Grains.

Foster is a beef farmer who also grows grain and forage crops. He said he's already feeling the effects of the embargo as the market has dropped around 10 per cent in the past week.

"We are an exporting nation, and we really depend on other countries buying our products for our farmers to be able to succeed."

Farmer Dwight Foster, seen here in 2017, says he blames the federal government and their handling of the situation involving tech giant Huawei. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Inauthentic export certificate

Chinese authorities advised Canadian officials of the tainted pork shipment July 14, and soon after the Canada Food Inspection Agency said the export certificate attached to the shipment was inauthentic.

Canada's Agriculture Minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, told CBC News that the suspect pork shipments and certificates are unlikely Canadian — but were being misrepresented as such.

Foster said he blames the federal government and their handling of the dispute involving tech giant Huawei's executive Meng Wanzhou as the real cause of the current turmoil.

"Absolutely 100 percent without any question, that's what it is," Foster said.

"If I was the trade minister in Canada, I'd fuel my jet up and I'd drop down in Vancouver and I'd put that woman on the plane with me and I'd fly to China. I'd park on the tarmac and I'd say 'I'm here to negotiate,' and she's waiting in the plane. I'll tell you — I'd have a deal within 24 hours."

Foster says several Asian countries, including China, import Canadian pork, including cuts from the tail and the tongue that North American consumers typically find less appealing. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

The number of people working on farms accounts for 1.7 per cent of the population, according to Statistics Canada, but accounts for 6.7 per cent — $110 billion annually —  of the country's total gross domestic product (GDP).

Several Asian countries import Canadian pork products, Foster said, including cuts more desirable in those countries like organs, the tongue and part of the animal's tail.

"If they don't take those [cuts], then that brings the value of the animal down," he said. "The packing plant isn't willing to pay as much for the animal and then that affects the price we get."

Prosecute those responsible

Bruce Hudson, a pork farmer in the city's west end, is frustrated that Canadian meat — considered a premium product — is now being portrayed as inferior.

Hudson went from being a preferred supplier to China to having his product banned. He said he's now forced to jump through hoops to certify his product's quality, including ensuring ractopamine isn't fed to his animals or introduced by the feed suppliers.

The process includes signing an affidavit to that effect.

If the ban is due to someone slapping a fake export certificate on the shipment in question, Hudson hopes whoever is behind it is found and prosecuted — but like Foster, he also believes the dispute with China over Huawei could be part of the mix.

Hudson also grows soybeans, which have also been caught up in the trade dispute, with exports to China drying up at the start of the year.

"It's taken money out of our pockets," he said.

Hudson has weathered other storms in his 35 years in the agriculture industry, including H1N1 and the 2014 Russian embargo, and said he's considering retirement if he can't make a living from his products anymore.

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