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Cattle producers happy province abandoning levy

Move spells end to federal slaughter facility

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THAT loud applause you hear is the sound of Manitoba cattle producers cheering the end of the $2-per-head cattle levy after eight long years.

But it also means efforts to establish a federal beef-slaughter facility in Winnipeg are over.

The province announced Friday that effective Sept. 1 the cattle-enhancement levy will end. It also spells the end for the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council (MCEC).

It will keep the shop open to facilitate refunds of the levy that have been paid over the past 12 months as well as to wind up affairs and attempt to sell assets.

Anders Bruun, a lawyer who has been retained to help wind up MCEC's affairs, said, "At a certain point it became clear MCEC was not going to have adequate funding to carry forward, and in the circumstances it was thought best to simply stop collecting the levy from farmers as soon as possible."

Members of Manitoba Beef Producers have been waiting for this news for some time.

"We very much applaud the decision," said Cam Dahl, the organization's general manager.

"We still very much welcome a commercially viable entity interested in investing in Manitoba and we are open to those suggestions. But it was time for the check-off to end."

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn defended the efforts of the MCEC. He said there are challenging realities the beef and cattle industry face these days, and the past and current board and staff of the MCEC were dedicated and came close to success.

As an example of what's going on in the industry, he said a large packing plant in Aberdeen, S.D., that just opened was forced to shut and declare bankruptcy.

Producers across North America have been reducing herds, driving down the supply of cattle and leaving lots of excess processing capacity.

In the spring of 2011, the federal government pulled back its commitment of $10 million for Keystone Processing, a former Maple Leaf Foods plant MCEC has purchased and was looking to develop into a federal facility.

MCEC invested about $5.7 million from money it collected over the years from the check-off program into the Marion Street facility.

Bruun said when the federal money came off the table, it all started to unravel. "After the decision was made by the federal government (not to provide the funding), it was like the first rock in an avalanche," he said. "Once the first rock gets rolling, other things start to fall down."

Kostyshyn said the province will now try to concentrate on supporting the industry through strong opposition to COOL (country-of-origin labelling), developing insurance-based products for producers, maintaining community pastures and investing in research that will increase the resiliency and profitability of Manitoba's livestock sector.

Those are the kinds of undertakings Dahl said the cattle producers want the province to be involved in.

He said producers are also hopeful of the expansion underway at a small beef-processing plant near Carman called Plains Processing that might lead to federal certification sometime early in the new year.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 B11

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