Lessons learned from bovine spongiform ...

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Int. J. Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 14, No. 5, 2010

Lessons learned from bovine spongiform encephalopathy for the future management of the Canadian cattle industry Cam Ostercamp Beef Initiative Group, 234, 5149 Country Hills Blvd. N.W., Suite # 437, Calgary, Alberta, T3A 5K8, Canada E-mail: [email protected]

Shalu Darshan and Roxanne E. Lewis McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, 1 Stewart St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada E-mail: [email protected] E-mail: [email protected]

Daniel Krewski McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, 1 Stewart St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada and Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa Ontario, K1H 8M5, Canada E-mail: [email protected]

Michael G. Tyshenko* McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, 1 Stewart St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada E-mail: [email protected] *Corresponding author Abstract: Globally, Canada is only a minor beef producing country, and yet ranks fourth among countries exporting beef products. That fact alone shows considerable market vulnerability. When coupled with dependence on corporate-owned slaughter capacity and heavy reliance on only one export market (the USA), that vulnerability is magnified. Economic losses from BSE in Canada following the occurrence of the first domestic case in May 2003 were disproportionately incurred by the farm producers. The debate around enhanced BSE testing to regain lost markets highlighted the lack of influence of farm producers on BSE risk management policy development, and the inability Copyright © 2010 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.



C. Ostercamp et al. of Canadian groups such as the Canadian Beef Export Federation to reduce market vulnerability by accessing new markets. In future, government policies should promote and support market diversification. One possible approach to reduce market vulnerability would be to move towards a New Zealand style producer-owned model. Keywords: bovine spongiform encephalopathy; BSE; Canada; USA; farm; risk management; trade. Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Ostercamp, C., Darshan, S., Lewis, R.E., Krewski, D. and Tyshenko, M.G. (2010) ‘Lessons learned from bovine spongiform encephalopathy for the future management of the Canadian cattle industry’, Int. J. Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp.323–334. Biographical notes: Cam Ostercamp is a primary cattle producer from Blackie, Alberta and the President of the Beef Initiative Group – Canada, a non-governmental organisation representing cattle producers in Western Canada. He has written several articles seeking solutions to problems faced by farmers and farm families. Shalu Darshan is involved in prion research activities as part of the Networks of Centres Excellence (NCE) funded project, PrioNet. Her academic background includes a PhD in Chemistry and interdisciplinary training in population health risk management. Her research interests include risk management and policy of prion diseases in Canada and internationally along with management strategies for developing countries to deal with the challenges posed by prion diseases. Roxanne Lewis is a Research Assistant at the McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Her academic background and interests are in chemistry, epidemiology and risk assessment. She is involved in prion research activities as part of the Networks of Centres Excellence (NCE) funded project PrioNet. Daniel Krewski is a Professor of Epidemiology and Community Medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he also serves as a Scientific Director of the McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment. His research interests include epidemiology, biostatistics, health risk assessment, and risk management. He is a Fellow of the Society for Risk Analysis, the American Statistical Association, and a National Affiliate of the US National Academy of Sciences. He holds the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair in Risk Science at the University of Ottawa. Michael G. Tyshenko is a Research Associate at the University of Ottawa. His academic background includes a PhD in Molecular Biology, an MPA in Public Administration and Postdoctoral training in Policy Studies and Risk Communication. He specialises in interdisciplinary studies combining molecular biology, science policy and risk communication focusing on emerging issues including: genomics, bioinformatics, zoonotic diseases, pandemics and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy prion research.

Lessons learned from BSE for the future management




Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system of a cattle. Human consumption of beef contaminated with the BSE agent can lead to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which demonstrates a similar pattern of disease etiology to BSE (Collinge, 2001). In addition to its devastating impact on animal health, the occurrence of BSE has major negative socio-economic impacts (Mitra et al., 2009). Many countries, including Canada and the USA, implemented precautionary measures when responding to the threat of BSE. These measures have resulted in the appearance of a minimal number of cases of BSE cases to date: 18 in Canada and two in the USA (Office International des Epizooties, 2010). Prior to the detection of its first domestic case of BSE, Canada’s cattle industry was worth $7.5 billion Canadian dollars (CAD) a year. Canada exported most of its cattle and beef products, with 1.7 million head of cattle and 1.1 billion pounds of beef and veal sent to the USA in 2002 (United States Department of Agriculture, 2006), the year prior to the detection of the first domestic case of BSE in Canada. Annual production of meat and bone meal (MBM) in Canada was approximately 575,000 tons, of which 40,000 tons were exported each year to the USA (European Commission, 2000). The Canadian export market for live cattle and beef products was essentially eliminated on May 20, 2003, when a six year-old cow in Northern Alberta tested positive for BSE. The immediate closure of the US border to Canadian cattle and beef had major repercussions. In 2002, an overwhelming proportion of Canadian beef (approximately 90%) and live cattle (over 99%) were exported to the USA. The small amounts exported to other countries (Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) highlighted the importance of the US market for Canadian cattle producers (Poulin and Boame, 2003). The loss of export markets due to the detection of BSE in Canada resulted in major disruptions in trade and huge financial losses for the Canadian cattle industry (Matthews et al., 2006). Following the discovery of BSE in Canada, the USA imposed an embargo on Canadian cattle and beef that remained in effect until September 11, 2003. At that time, the USA, followed by a number of other countries, allowed the import of boneless beef from Canadian cattle younger than 30 months of age under a permit process (Matthews et al., 2006); however, the ban on live animal imports from Canada persisted for many months. On April 18, 2004, the USA lifted its import restrictions on ground beef, bone-in cuts of beef, and offal from animals younger than 30 months. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) later announced on December 29, 2004, that young live cattle from Canada would be allowed into the USA as of March 7, 2005. At the beginning of 2005, a legal challenge mounted by a US cattlemen’s lobby group (R-CALF) to keep the ban against Canadian live cattle in place was defeated, and the movement of live cattle resumed (National Post, 2005; Agricultural Law Update, 2006). Despite the occurrence of BSE in Canada, there was little change in retail beef prices, and the level of public concern over the issue remained low (Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 2004; Hallman et al., 2004; Lemyre et al., 2009). Before the occurrence of BSE in Canada, approximately 84% of revenue was generated from exports to the USA. In 2002, the farm value of the live cattle exported from Canada was $1.8 billion CAD. At that time, 47% of Canadian beef production was exported, with 81% of those exports going to the USA (Matthews et al., 2006).


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Following the discovery of BSE and the subsequent ban on the importation of Canadian beef by the USA and other countries, the Canadian cattle herd increased by 6.5% to a record 16.8 million head in July 1, 2004. This increase was largely a result of the collapse of export markets for live cattle. Herd sizes rose in all provinces: in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, herd sizes increased by 16.0%, 12.3%, and 6.9% respectively. The increased numbers of cattle now on farms instead of being slaughtered cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased maintenance and feed costs (Statistics Canada, 2004). The billions of dollars lost from the occurrence of relatively few cases of BSE (Mitura and Di Piétro, 2004), coupled with the occurrence of important psychosocial impacts on the Canadian farming community (Mitra et al., 2009), clearly indicate the need for new approaches to the future management of the Canadian cattle industry. One of the policy goals for BSE risk management should be to maintain and restore profitability to the cattle sector. By so doing, the industry could begin the slow process of restoring a viable future to family farm operations in Canada. Ultimately, Canadian national agricultural policies should serve to support an internationally competitive cattle and beef industry.


A basic problem with the current Canadian business model

In order to appreciate the need for change in how the Canadian cattle industry does business, it is important to understand how the industry is currently structured. For more than a generation, Canadian cattle farmers have thought that the only way to operate as producers is to continue to produce and offer for sale their annual production to the feedlot sector, which in turn finishes the calves and offers them to two US-owned packers operating on Canadian soil. The packers, in turn, process and export the majority of the beef derived from those cattle to the USA. Before that beef leaves the country, it has undergone a change of ownership, and is now the property of a multinational corporation, yet it is measured as a part of Canadian gross domestic product (GDP). Canadian cattle farmers are not involved in the value-added beef processing stage, and must accept the prices that they are offered, which may not reflect current supply of, and demand for beef products, or external pressures on the farming community. In effect, Canadian farmers are precluded from benefiting from post-slaughter and export profits. Due to the dependence of the Canadian cattle industry on the US market and the US beef packing industry operating in Canada, farmers incur a discount on the value of their production. In all of modern agriculture, profit margins enjoyed by producers have been reduced by the ability of large agricultural corporations to exact ever increasing input costs on the farmer’s production, and to control through oligopolies the price at which farmers will offer that production for sale. The primary producer who sits at the bottom of the economic value chain has a very little control over escalating input costs and shrinking profit margins. The farmer does not have the ability to influence the price offered for cattle production (National Farmers Union, 2008). Support for this notion is provided by the increasing demand for government bailouts in the face of decreasing government subsidies, and the implementation of off-farm work designed to keep agriculture afloat at the family farm level (Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, 2007). Recent history has served to confirm the vulnerability of the primary Canadian cattle producer through

Lessons learned from BSE for the future management


dependence on grain feeds that are themselves vulnerable to drought, insect infestations, and other market forces (Statistics Canada, 2003; Wheaton et al., 2008; Vanclief, 2003; Gorrie, 2003). Following the enormous economic losses accruing from only a handful of BSE-affected cattle, the need to address Canadian agriculture’s inherent vulnerability caused by reliance on a single market has never been greater (LeRoy and Klein, 2005).

2.1 Processing control in Canada During the year after Canada’s first reported case of BSE in May 2003 there were three large producer-owned slaughter plants responsible for the majority of Canada’s slaughter capacity. Two (Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Limited) are US owned, and one (Nillson Bros XL Beef) was Canadian ownership. Players in the rendering business continue to change over time but there exists an opportunity for primary producers to invest in these existing facilities, thereby strengthening the shareholder base of all three facilities, and solidifying the presence of foreign owned beef packing plants in Canada. A prerequisite for this investment is for government to revisit current policies and laws governing beef processing in Canada, with a view to providing long term stability for primary producers and beef processors alike. In 2003, Cargill had about 13% of USA slaughter capacity, it accounted for approximately 53% of total Canadian slaughter capacity. Tyson Food’s, the second largest beef processor, controlled approximately 33% share of Canadian slaughter capacity. Two of the three main beef processors operating in Canada thus controlled around 86% of Canada’s beef packing industry (Schroeder, 2003) and, by extension, effectively controlled the supply and demand dynamics, as was apparent during the Canadian BSE crisis (Holm, 2004). The control that the two main US packers exerted over Canadian producers, both primary and feedlot producers, precluded genuine competition among the oligopoly in the North American beef processing industry.


BSE policy choices affecting primary producers

During the BSE outbreak in Canada, the idea of voluntary BSE testing to regain lost export markets was discussed at length by Canadian farm producers. However, due to the high degree of harmonisation of Canadian and US BSE risk management policies due to the highly integrated Canadian and US beef markets, Canadian regulators resisted the idea of more testing (Edmonton Journal, 2005; LeRoy and Klein, 2005). The choice not to allow expanded testing (similar to EU levels) to regain export markets or acquire new markets is not entirely consistent with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) mandate under the Ministry of Agriculture to promote Canadian agri-business: the policy choices that were made regarding BSE testing were not supportive of providing a competitive advantage to Canada’s primary producers through the additional assurances of safety that post mortem BSE testing would provide. The argument presented has several other dimensions such as legal impediments to testing in both the USA and in Canada, increased regulatory oversight, increased costs of testing (labour and diagnostic kits), increased infrastructure costs (holding coolers for carcasses), requirements for traceability and labelling standards/claims that also need to be considered, along with the testing amount (100% or less to establish prevalence). The decision to resist more


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extensive testing due to harmonisation with the USA implies that Canada did not want to compromise access to its largest market (the USA) market by implementing substantially more testing (either EU over 30 month testing or even Japanese 100% testing). An example of the benefits of testing is provided in the case of Japan, whose cattle industry recovered quickly from a much more severe BSE outbreak. Given the moderate size in its domestic market, Japan has a much larger and more prosperous livestock industry than might be expected. Japan’s recovery can be attributed in large part to the Japanese government’s decision to implement 100% testing to restore consumer confidence and recapture lost markets. In Japan, 100% post mortem testing of all slaughtered cattle was used as a tool for both domestic and international market recovery (Ondodera and Kim, 2006). A similar situation occurred in other countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, who restored the value to live animals following the occurrence of domestic BSE through significantly increased (although not 100%) testing regimes (Brown et al., 2001). A number of studies in various countries have documented a willingness-to-pay among consumers for additional BSE testing as a way to ensure enhanced food safety (McCluskey et al., 2005; Corsi and Novelli, 2007; Cowan et al., 2000; Latouche et al., 1998). While BSE has been blamed for almost all of the Canadian cattle industries woes in the last six years, it was merely the latest example of the sector’s ongoing vulnerability to over-reliance on the US market and the US-owned Canadian beef packing industry. The call by Canadian cattle farmers for the right to test for the presence of BSE as a means of market access recovery was only one tool that could have helped the primary producers reopen closed trade borders more quickly. A large part of the vulnerability of the Canadian cattle industry lies in demonstrating to producers how to enter the economic value chain through the control of beef production from birth to the eventual wholesaling of that production to the end user, represented by both domestic and foreign consumers.

3.1 The Canadian Beef Export Federation and position for BSE testing The Canadian Beef Export Federation (CBEF) is wholly funded by Canadian beef producers and Canadian taxpayers. Approximately 29% of CBEF’s funding comes from national producer check off (levy), with the remainder from Canadian taxpayers. Although each member of CBEF pays a small annual membership fee, membership revenues account for only a small proportion of the annual budget. CBEF’s membership is comprised largely of beef processors and wholesale and retail beef trade business members (Canada Beef Export Federation, 2008; LeRoy and Klein, 2005). The interests of producers and taxpayers are seemingly in conflict with the interests of the beef processing industry in Canada: in the dozen years that CBEF has existed, they have had not been able to influence the trade of Canadian beef products to any substantial degree. While the obvious primary market for two US-based processors operating in Canada has been the USA, the CBEF was mandated to diversify the export of Canadian beef products globally, thereby reducing Canadian dependence on the US market. However, following the implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUSTA) in January 1989, Canada-US market integration was accelerated, reinforcing the reliance of Canadian beef processing plants on the nearby US market (National Farmers Union, 2008). Obvious reluctance by all levels of government, including the lead agency (CFIA) and politicians, to support voluntary BSE testing did not support the interests of the

Lessons learned from BSE for the future management


primary producer (Calgary Herald, 2004; Edmonton Journal, 2004a, 2004b). Regulators in Canada provided the primary producer with few tools or options to regain lost international markets. More effective agricultural policies that are supportive of primary producers, who represent the core of the Canadian cattle industry, were needed in responding to the Canadian BSE crisis.


A new paradigm for reducing market vulnerability

New Zealand’s experience with a producer-owned slaughter and brokerage industry began in the early 1980s. With the announcement of a new government budget in 1982, farm income subsidisation fell from over 40% to less than 1% overnight. Since 1984, successive governments in New Zealand have implemented a series of economic reforms leading to deregulation across several sectors of the economy. Industry bodies or producer boards, such as the New Zealand Meat Producers Board, were given the sole authority for the acquisition and trading by the government. Following deregulation, producer boards were responsible for activities such as research and development and information transfer. These reforms resulted in the removal of almost all producer and exporter subsidies and incentive payments. In addition, these reforms have stimulated new, efficient farming and processing methods that are now internationally recognised. All primary producer marketing activities are now carried out by producer-owned or publicly-owned companies or cooperatives, with no government support and limited in-market assistance (Tuckley and Gillespie, 2007). In the absence of government support, agriculture was forced to make changes. At present, close to three quarters of New Zealand’s slaughter capacity is producer-owned. Meat production is New Zealand’s second largest food export, worth $4.8 billion NZD in 2005. New Zealand’s main meat exports are beef, lamb, and mutton to North America and Northern Asia, which account for 90% of export income. Other minor meat exports (10%) include venison, veal, goat, offals, variety meats and sausage casings. Currently, three companies dominate the meat processing sector, controlling about 80% of the production of meat products: the AFFCO Group, Alliance Group Limited, and Silver Fern Farms. Each of these companies has multiple plants and export revenues in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion NZD; the remaining processors are comprised of many smaller private companies (Tuckley and Gillespie, 2007). Silver Fern Farms Limited [formerly the Primary Producers Co-op Society Limited, (PPCS)] in New Zealand is structured as a farmer cooperative, owned by about 9,000 farmer suppliers employing 6,000 people. The company processes and exports sheep meat, beef, venison and other associated products to 60 countries (Sliver Fern Farms, 2008). AFFCO New Zealand operates ten strategically located processing sites throughout New Zealand, with nine in the North Island and one in the South Island. AFFCO is the only meat company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange; many of the shareholders are the farmers that supply their livestock (cattle, lambs, sheep, and goats) to AFFCO (AFFCO New Zealand, 2008). The Alliance Group Limited is a farmer-owned producer cooperative, processing and marketing beef, lamb, sheep, venison, and pork products at seven South Island sites. It was established in 1948 by farmers who formed the company to process and market


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high quality meat and co-products to international markets (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, 2007). The Alliance Group has just over 6,000 producer members and records a little over one billion dollars (NZD) a year business in the seven slaughter facilities (Alliance Group Limited, 2008). The producers insist that they cannot afford to market their production in any other way and remain competitive in a global market. New Zealand producers encounter the same structural problems as Canada, as they are a strong export market producing two and a half times more product than is consumed domestically. New Zealand producers are prosperous, with their financial records showing consistent profits. The fact that New Zealand has remained BSE free during the deregulation and development of producer-owned processing should not be overlooked as a factor in the success of its beef industry (Meat Industry Association of New Zealand, 2008). The system in New Zealand may be a good model to consider for Canada. Over 70% of New Zealand’s slaughter capacity is producer-owned. When Canadian food service companies purchase beef and beef products from New Zealand, they are dealing directly with the producers for the most part. New Zealand producer-owned industries demonstrate profitability each year, while competing globally with multinational producers. The weakness of the current Canadian system was exposed when the CBEF that was mandated to diversify Canadian beef products globally some dozen years ago, in order to reduce dependence on the US market. However, regardless of the intent, the CBEF has been unable to alter the path of beef exports in any significant way, largely because two US packers now own the vast majority of the slaughter capacity in Canada, and their closest market is their parent country. The expansion of Canadian-owned slaughter would foster a better relationship between these Canadian processors and the CBEF, and support the diversification of export markets for Canadian beef products. The recent creation of Natural Prairie Beef Incorporated is a positive step in this direction as it increases primary producer ownership. Governments can support this paradigm shift by updating current beef production policies, early stage planning, and promotion of domestic production and processing. Although a move toward implementing producer-owned slaughter industry in Canada will meet with opposition, the New Zealand experience suggests that a producer-owned industry will provide a stronger basis for future growth and afford greater economic viability for Canadian farmers. Primary producer ownership of a major portion of Canada’s beef slaughter industry may be one way to achieve a stable, profitable, and globally competitive beef processing industry in Canada. There are three prerequisites for success of the multinational beef processing industry: mass production, maximum share of slaughter capacity, and the ability to exert some degree of control over suppliers. Enhanced BSE testing would have interfered both with mass production and supplier control.



Canada endured particularly damaging effects from the detection of domestic BSE, not only because it was the first North American country to discover the disease within its herd, but also because of the high dependence on exports. The cattle industry was deeply

Lessons learned from BSE for the future management


affected by the subsequent export ban on Canadian cattle and beef products. The net effect of border closures to Canadian beef has been the loss of billions of dollars (LeRoy and Klein, 2005). It is important to understand that the economic plight of primary producers in Canada and the negative effects of trade related to BSE had little to do with the ability to produce. Rather, the industry is completely focused on marketing and profitability. The high degree of control that all agriculture-related corporations exercise over primary producers, on the cost of production inputs as well as on the sale of producer’s annual production, has essentially led primary producers to become suppliers of cheap labour and expensive land in order that a handful of predominantly multinational corporations may prosper. Looking to the future, it would be advisable to learn from our mistakes in order to better buffer and provide additional options during agricultural crises like BSE. An important lesson learned from the Canadian experience with BSE is the importance of considering all possible consequences when conducting a risk assessment – including impacts to primary producers and their families. The need for such a comprehensive analysis to determine long-term impact to the producers cannot be understated for continued future viability of the sector. The likelihood of finding BSE within the Canadian cattle herd was known before the actual appearance of the disease in the country (Morley et al., 2003; European Commission, 2000). However, the potential devastating socio-economic effects on the economy and farm families were not considered when assessing the consequence of the occurrence of BSE in Canada (Mitra et al., 2009). In the global context, Canada is far down the list of beef-producing countries, and yet ranks at about fourth in terms of countries exporting beef. While this alone shows considerable vulnerability to any changes that might occur with export markets, Canadian dependence on corporate-owned slaughter capacity and one primary export market magnifies that vulnerability. One possible approach to mitigate this market vulnerability would be to move towards a New Zealand style producer-owned model for the beef processing industry. Canadian producers are presently weak sellers because they are at the bottom of the economic chain. The value of any agricultural product increases each time it changes hands and is further processed. Given these conditions, improving conditions for producers would be an important step towards making the Canadian beef industry more stable and viable in the long term. One example of how increasing producer control may bring stability to producers was the debate around voluntary BSE testing following the first domestic Canadian case. This was undeniably an important issue for both farmers and the multinational processors, but for different reasons. The success of the multinational processors depends upon their ability to maintain three prerequisites: mass-produce product, maintain maximum share of slaughter capacity, and maintain effective control over suppliers and producers. When two multinational processors control over 85% of a country’s slaughter capacity, they virtually control the supply and demand. If voluntary BSE testing was allowed, their success would have been compromised. Arguments citing consumer confidence in the domestic supply of beef and the cost of testing were convenient but minor excuses that were used not to implement voluntary testing. Other countries affected by BSE (mainly EU countries) resorted to increased testing as a tool to quantify the prevalence of disease and to repair confidence in lost markets.


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In recent years, the favoured solution of beef producers to meet declining profit margins in agriculture has been to increase production. Agricultural research involving both plant and animal products has greatly advanced yield potential; however, from a broader perspective, this does not address the original economic problem, as increased production inevitably results in lower commodity prices. The current view of the USDA is that in North America, “...we can increase the yield potential of corn by 40% in the next four years” is a typical example of how overproducing in the agri-sectors (with input costs borne by the farmer) is used to compensate for higher costs of production. At the same time, this over-production allows processors to ratchet down the farm gate price for cattle destined for slaughter. In Canada, there are small producer-owned slaughter initiatives that are struggling to compete with the large multinationals. The role of government clearly is not necessarily to provide funding for these smaller businesses in the way of subsidies, but rather to support them through the development of appropriate policies that would nurture these initiatives, and demonstrate to producers the benefits of vertical integration into the economic value chain. The merits of this concept has been recognised by producers carrying the burden of primary production, but less so by industry leadership and government. With farm producers still struggling to recover in the wake of the Canadian BSE crisis, Canada should seek rebuild its cattle industry with the development and implementation of appropriate government policies. One such option could be to adopt a New Zealand style model of increased producer-owned processing capacity.

Acknowledgements This work was supported in part by a grant from PrioNet Canada, a national network for research on prion diseases funded by the Networks of Centres of Excellence in Canada.

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