Great news on South Korea, but really, what took so long?
I, like everyone else, am delighted the South Korean market is now open to Canadian beef — go forth all you dedicated Canadian cowboys and cowgirls and produce and sell more beef — but honestly one of my first thoughts when I saw the release about the agreement was of the movie “Dumb and Dumber” (it is one of my favorites).
But who was the dumb one in this situation? Have we Canadians been dumb for trusting the quality and safety of
Canadian beef all these years — we never stopped eating Canadian beef after the BSE crisis — , or were some bureaucrats in South Korea dumb for taking nine years to issue their approval of the Import Health Requirements? (Photo caption – a friend of mine who use to live in South Korea sent me this photo of beef in China foraging on a landfill, and according to South Korean media reports some of these beef end up being exported to South Korea. And South Korea is worried about the safety of Canadian beef? Hello!)
I will never be in politics and my chances of being picked for some plumb diplomatic posting are dwindling daily, but I look at the situation where we as Canadians —our government agricultural, trade and beef marketing people — are dealing with the relatively modern and progressive democratic country of South Korea and I have to wonder “what the hell took nine years to figure out?”
How many pounds of Canadian BSE-laden beef was ever shipped? None. How many cases of Mad Cow Disease were found in humans because they ate BSE-laden Canadian beef? None. How many people have died (or even got sick) from eating Canadian BSE-laden beef? None. Is there such a thing as Canadian BSE-laden beef? No.
How long did it take leading world food science and human health communities to decide, after the BSE crisis, that Canadian beef is of high quality and safe to eat? Almost since Day 1. What country has strict and costly rules about removal and disposal of Specified Risk Materials from beef carcasses, now considered to be hazardous waste? Canada. What country has implemented a national livestock identification and traceability program and has a pretty stringent program for random animal health testing? Canada.
How many people have you coaxed, cajoled and catered to for nine years to eat a steak dinner at your kitchen table? I don’t know about your household, but at mine the answer is….None.
Here is where my resume` for a plumb diplomatic or marketing job gets a little weak. But my approach on this whole post BSE marketing thing would be to approach the South Koreans, or any market for that matter and say: “Yes, we had a problem. We have dealt with it. We have put every possible safe guard in place. We have stacks of scientific evidence that shows that our product is safe. We are here today, with a high quality, high value, product that is completely safe. Do you want it or not?”
I am a slow reader, but it probably wouldn’t take much more than 30 seconds to read that off. It certainly wouldn’t take nine years.
I am hoping in this whole business there was an enormous, unbelievable quagmire of politics and many other wide ranging trade issues at play, and this really wasn’t a simple question about whether Canadian beef is safe to eat. Was it any safer on January 20, 2012 when this agreement was signed than it was five years ago?
All the cattle organizations are thanking federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz and trade minister Ed Fast for
hammering out this agreement with South Korea. And the Canadian Cattleman’s Association was also very dedicated in it’s efforts over the past decade to get this market open. God love them for their patience and persistence.
And it is good. Another $30 million beef market is a great thing. I know I sound a bit like one of the predictable, whiney, never satisfied, too-little/too-late opposition parties, but I still have to go back to my original point — if it takes nine years to convince a customer that you have a good quality, safe product they really enjoyed at one time, either your message isn’t very clear, or they are so thick headed that maybe you don’t want them as a customer anyway. I hear that garbage-grazing beef from China is really tasty, but it needs a little HP Sauce.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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