By Connor Lynch
MITCHELL — Ontario and Quebec’s beef backlog grew to 15,000 animals last month, as a chronic lack of slaughter capacity was compounded by a major plant’s suspension and government bureaucracy.
It’s an issue that could eliminate 20 per cent of beef production in Ontario, said Beef Farmers of Ontario’s feedlot director Jack Chaffe. Chaffe runs a feedlot just north of Mitchell in Perth County.
The well-publicized suspension of Ryding-Regency’s licence back in September has persisted well into the fall. Given that the plant slaughters as much as 10 per cent of Ontario’s finished animals, that’s a significant loss of capacity for producers, Chaffe said.
But the systemic issue at work is a lack of capacity. Ontario’s been bleeding slaughterhouses for years, and operators say that current levels of regulation make it very difficult to get started in the business, a grim but necessary one for animal agriculture.
It also comes as feedlots have grown in Ontario, Chaffe said. Droughts in Texas back in 2012 and 2013 created a beef shortage that signaled an opportunity for expansion in Ontario, he said. Demand for beef both domestically and internationally is also at an all-time high.
Last year, however, a horde of cull cows from the dairy industry jammed slaughter facilities. Incentive days were cut back for dairy producers, encouraging them to cull animals, and that meant a lot of extra beef in the pipeline, Chaffe said.
A couple of major processing plants, including St. Helens, in Toronto, and Cargill, at Guelph, are running six days a week over the usual five to help clear things out. But that’s a short-term solution as weekends are normally reserved for maintenance, which can only be put off for so long.
Some loads of cattle have gone into Western Canada, albeit at a loss, Chaffe said. “(Producers are) losing close to $500 a head, by the time you take the price they’re offering and pay for freight.” It’s being done just for the sake of getting the animals out.
It’s becoming an animal welfare and a producer mental health issue, as well. If producers were going to switch animals to a maintenance ration, knowing there would be delays, they would have needed to know back in August. Now, some animals are just getting too big to support themselves. “They just get so heavy and over fat, you go to the barn and they can’t get up. (They) go from the barn to deadstock removal.”
Chaffe contracts as much as 50 per cent of the 2,800 animals he finishes annually, so he’s not feeling the pinch as much as others. Producers without contracted animals become price-takers when there’s a backlog. “You put (your animals) on a list, and (the processors) don’t even give you a price until they’re close to taking delivery on them. It’s a poor way of doing business.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was supposed to ease the issue back in July by filing a report to change Canada’s BSE status. Abattoirs in the Eastern U.S. aren’t keen on Ontario cattle because they have to segregate the animals out, an issue the report would’ve solved. But apparently the CFIA was missing information and couldn’t file the report, Chaffe said, and the earliest opportunity to get it filed is next July.
“The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has dedicated two of their people to help CFIA make sure it’s taken care of next year,” he said.
Chaffe doesn’t take issue with the CFIA. “We definitely don’t want to impede the CFIA. We want to have safe food for consumers. That process has to stay in place.” But BFO sat at the table for Ontario’s government-led round-table on vomitoxin last year, offering to take as much infected corn as they could handle. But he’s not seeing any provincial government action on this current crisis.
“I’m disappointed in the government not taking the lead on this,” he said. “We’re in a disaster mode right now. They should be stepping up.
“If this doesn’t change, 20 per cent of producers have to get out, or 20 per cent of production has to cut back. It hurts everybody.”
Beef backlog likely hit 15,000 in Ontario, Quebec
By Connor Lynch