Ever since the start of the BSE crisis in 2003, U.S. restrictions have blocked the import of live sheep and goats. Nearly 18 years later, the border has finally been reopened.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a new rule allowing for the import of scrapie-resistant live breeding stock as of Jan. 3, 2022.
Previous restrictions limited imports to feeder and slaughter sheep under 12 months old, sheep and goat germplasm, and a few other products. Now, sheep and goats for breeding and captive purposes will also be allowed in.
Prior to the BSE crisis, Canada was a net exporter of sheep and lamb and exports exceeded $18 million annually, mostly to the U.S. In the two or three years leading up to the closure, the industry had shown exponential trade and tremendous growth. In comparison, Canada’s 2014 sheep and lamb export revenues were less than $500,000, Corlena Patterson, Canadian Sheep Federation executive director said.
Normally, purebred producers sell breeding stock and there’s not many of them. Before the BSE crisis, there were 13,232 sheep farms in Canada in 2001 and that number dropped to 9,390 by 2016, according to Statistics Canada. There are now between 13,000 and 14,000 sheep farms in the nation including commercial producers, said Patterson.
U.S. import restrictions ended for cattle in 2007, but sheep and goat imports were limited to feeder and slaughter. A year later, the Country-of-Origin Labeling requirement was signed into American law, a domestic policy requiring that retailers label fresh beef, pork, and lamb.
“It limited the re-establishment of ongoing, normal, pre-BSE trade. It restricted slaughterhouses that could purchase feeder and slaughter lambs because they’d have to segregate them in the feedlot. It was kind of a non-tariff trade barrier,” explained Patterson.
Changing regulations on sheep and goat imports was a slow and lengthy process, said Patterson. A proposed regulation came out in 2016, which was largely favoured during the consultation process, but then “it languished on the U.S. side because the previous administration didn’t have a keen trade interest,” she said.
Patterson stated that eliminating trade barriers is more difficult for species with a lesser dollar value, which is why the cattle industry was prioritized.
“The frustrating part for us was that, having had no major objections, it shouldn’t have sat on the shelf for that long. We’ll take it as a win regardless. We are appreciative that those rules have changed,” Patterson said.
Not only does this new policy make trade easier with the U.S. but it solves issues with the cross-transit of livestock, primarily to Mexico and South America. Canada had a certificate for the export of breeding animals to Mexico, but couldn’t ship them through the U.S., said Patterson.
Similarly, last summer, Canada ratified an export certificate with Colombia for live animals and germplasm but the export part was made difficult without access to U.S. airports. “Now it’s possible and we expect to see it happening more and more,” Patterson said.
The overall market loss from the border closure is estimated at upwards of $20-30 million,” Patterson said, adding that the number of sheep farms and breeding stock also declined.
Another big question is how many sheep farmers will be affected and how many will start exporting to the U.S.
“This many years later, those customer connections have been lost,” Patterson said. “It’s not like the market was closed for a year. In the short-term, there’s not going to be mass exports happening as of January. They have to reestablish the demand on the U.S. side and it’s going to take some time to recultivate those trading relationships.”