I don't suppose anyone would have thought it would take this long to resolve the Canadian border issue, but it has finally happened. USDA issued the long-awaited announcement that it would bring its Canadian border rule in line with its standards for minimal risk countries for BSE (see Sept. 14 issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly). Currently, Canada is the only country so classified by USDA. This makes final the rule that was proposed and published last January, and opens up the border to any cattle born after the effective date of the Canadian feed ban (March 1, 1999).
From a market perspective this rule is relatively minor. The border, at least from a volume standpoint, has been open since 2005. Of course, there will continue to be opposition from activist groups who are implying that the U.S. beef supply is somehow unsafe, or that this could somehow jeopardize the U.S. beef herd by exposing it to BSE.
Probably nobody is 100% in agreement with how the rule was written, but the industry as a whole seemingly understands that safeguards are in place, and that the feed ban and removal of specified risk materials (SRMs) eliminate the risk regardless of the political rhetoric still coming from the fringe. R-CALF's leadership predictably indicated that they would pursue legal action if Congress does not act to stop the rule before it goes into effect in November, but any legal challenge is seen as a public relations ploy and not one that would affect implementation of the rule in the long term.
The real significance of this rule is that it ushers in a new era in the industry's internal trade debate. The reason for the paradigm shift is simply that all of the economic models and industry understanding of the impact of the global beef trade have been validated.
Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to make the case that the economic impact of these actions will be any different than what recent history has shown us. Also, while the Canadian border, along with country-of-origin labeling (COOL), were the two galvanizing issues surrounding the industry's internal conflicts, they are both approaching closure.
The question the industry will soon have to answer is whether or not all the dollars, all the fighting, all the battles, were in fact worth it. Did they position the industry better for the future, or distract it from the issues that promise to have real and significant economic impact for producers down the road?
From a journalistic standpoint, these debates were great for business. From an industry standpoint, history will probably judge this time as a huge disappointment.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it is still difficult to envision a unified industry where everyone comes together, puts aside their differences after democratic votes are taken, and works together to present a unified voice at a time when such a voice is critical. History tells us that if the industry is going to take such a positive step, it will be up to the rank and file to force leadership to reconcile and move forward, as leadership has far too much invested emotionally.
Now, it appears that the National Animal Identification System is the issue that leaders are focusing on to keep the internal divisions going. But with no one advocating mandatory, and with the marketplace sending clear signals as to the direction the industry is heading, it is hard to imagine that this issue has much staying power.