Alberta ranchers are baffled their beef products are banned from China due to a dispute over imported pork.
On Tuesday, China stopped accepting meat imports from Canada, saying it discovered forged veterinary certificates. Chinese customs inspectors said a shipment of Canadian pork products contained the growth hormone ractopamine, which is permitted in Canada, but disallowed in China.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said Wednesday the ban is “disappointing news for farmers.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is trying to sort out the impasse, and the Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP are investigating the questionable import certificates, he said.
The products in question came from a Quebec company, Dreeshen said.
He said it’s a “mystery” why China also banned beef and other Canadian meat products.
“It doesn’t really make much sense,” he said.
China was growing beef market
The temporary ban slams the brakes on what was an expanding market for Canadian beef in China, said Charlie Christie, chairman of the Alberta Beef Producers and a rancher near Trochu.
Alberta produces about 60 per cent of Canadian beef. Half of the beef produced in Canada is exported, and 70 per cent of that goes to the United States.
According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, 2.6 per cent of Canadian beef exports in 2018 were to China, valued at $97 million. But demand was on the rise. In the first quarter of 2019, beef exports to China were up 445 per cent in volume and 428 per cent in value.
Although pork producers rely more heavily on the Chinese market, Christie is disappointed the ban is interrupting the beef market’s momentum.
“We hope that they’ll take a step back and say, ‘Yeah, beef wasn’t involved in this,’ ” Christie said. “Realistically, we’re in the mix. It doesn’t look like China’s backing off until other issues are dealt with.”
China and Canada have been at odds since December, when police in Vancouver detained Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. China subsequently jailed two Canadian men, claiming they were spies. China has also banned Canadian canola imports.
Hormone use infrequent in pork products
Many beef producers use ractopamine in cattle’s final weeks to prompt them to grow lean muscle instead of fatty deposits, Christie said. The hormone helps reduce the environmental impacts of cattle production by requiring less land and water use, he said.
Some producers raise beef hormone-free to satisfy markets like China that disallow the drug, he said.
University of Alberta Prof. Heather Bruce, an expert in carcass and meat science, said most Canadian pork producers stopped using the drug a couple of years ago because of international restrictions.
Federal slaughterhouses don’t allow it, because they must certify pork exports are ractopamine free, she said.