gift horse Some people have no shame. After a lab report concluded that one cow in Western Canada that died last January was infected with ‘mad cow’ bovine spongiform encephalitis (BCE), the American beef industry had the border closed within an hour to all Canadian livestock (including sheep and goats, which universally carry their own species’ form of BCE, called scapie, and which we’ve been knowingly eating worldwide for years). Shares of McDonald’s tumbled. And today, Michigan started sending back Eastern Canadian waste disposal vehicles on the off-chance they might contain ‘scraps of mad-cow-infected beef’. It’s all right out of a Monty Python sketch.

When you think about it, though, this hysteria might actually be a blessing:

  1. Canada-US trade disputes have recently turned quite nasty. The adjudicating panels are likely to be much more cynical about the legitimacy of blatent new American anti-Canadian duties (on softwood lumber etc.) when they hear this nonsense.
  2. Canadian business and government leaders are starting to get wise to the need to stop sending raw Canadian materials to the US at bargain prices and then buy back the finished goods at premium prices. It’s unhealthy for the Canadian economy to be so dependent on commodities and on a single trading partner. And as the Canadian dollar soars (up to 74 cents US versus 62 cents just a few weeks ago) we’re going to have to find some new non-commodity products and new markets anyway.
  3. The beef industry is now dominated by conglomerate factory farms that are the epitome of animal cruelty. If a few of them go under and family farms regain ground at their expense, that would be wonderful.
  4. Beef is an extravagently expensive food product, despite the technologies that make it more and more chemical and less animal every year. And despite the industry hype, it’s not good for you, and we all eat too much of it.
  5. Why should Michigan be accepting Canadian garbage anyway? We can all thank NAFTA for striking down laws that used to make it illegal to export or import garbage from another signatory country. And you all know what I think of ‘ free trade ‘. So, damn it, Michiganers, refuse that refuse. 

So go ahead, you crazy, greedy guys. Keep banning Canadian stuff on absurd grounds. Mad Cow is not a Purple Cow , but it might just be a Gift Horse.

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  1. Rayne says:

    1) BSE is nasty — people should read up on it at New Scientist; be informed. Infectious prions can’t be destroyed by autoclaving; waste products may continue to have infectious properties even after normal disinfection processes or burning.2) If I were Canadian, I’d want to know where the hell that infected cow went *exactly*, since its proteins remain infectious even after rendering.3) And I thought we Michiganders HAD stopped Canadian garbage coming here. What’s up with THAT? can’t find some unpopulated space in the Northwest Territory?

  2. Marie Foster says:

    I thought that family farm was an oxymoron.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Rayne: Yeah, prions are awesome — definitely sci-fi material. But they are generally species-specific, so the ones who should be really worried about this case are other cows. And you guys ‘agreed’ (you were forced under NAFTA) to take Ontario garbage when an American company was the low bidder in the contract (they beat out a mine in Northern Ontario). And what’s with the ‘d’ in Michiganders? Are female Michiganders Michigeese?

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Marie: I wish ‘factory farm’ was an oxymoron.

  5. Rayne says:

    Nah, I don’t think prions are species-specific; that’s why the furor over eating contaminated beef. People have developed vCJD from eating BSE beef. It’s highly probable that the source was deer or elk which are known to carry BSE in the Rocky Mountain region; what would be of interest is the exact method of transmission. The only other animals that I think are not implicated in BSE-Scrapie-vCJD transmission are poultry and fish; I’ve never seen any documentation suggesting they are affected by prions. (So much for overfished ocean stocks…) / Re: Canadian trash — heh, wait ’til the flame mail starts for that…anyhow, I know there was a big stink (no pun intended) during elections and that Granholm was looking to cut off the inflow; this may have been a blessing, for sure. / Re: ‘ganders…the other choice was ‘ganians, which is quite lame. I’ll answer to ‘gander.

  6. Doug Alder says:

    I generally agree with your position on free trade Dave – I’m more than a litle incensed over the softwood lumber dispute (do a search on my site for softwood and you’ll se what I mean :-) ) However, I can think of at least one instance where NAFTA and the Canada-US FTA was quite beneficial to a Canadian industry. That industry is the wine industry. I can assure you if it wasn’t for free trade we would still be drinking Andre’s Ruby Red, Baby Duck and similar “wines” (at least here in BC).Prior to those agreements we only had large commercial wineries and it was not economically feasible to import grapes from the US (or anywhere else) as the import duties were exhorbitant. As a result they used locally grown grapes. They hired local orchardists to grow acres of cheap hardy grapes and that’s what they made their “wines” from (bad bad memories from my wasted youth but that’s another story). There simply was zero incentive for those wineries to improve thequality of their wine. They had a captive audience in BC (I know Ontario was a bit better) as decent imported wines were horrendously expensive.When the FT agreements came along everything changed. First the price of imported wines started to come down, negatively impacting the local wineries and causing them to have to actually compete against outsiders for the first time. This meant having to produce a better qualit wine, which in turn meant having to use a better quality grape. A grape that didn’t exist at that point in BC (and barely at all in Ontario) Fortunately for them the imort duties on grapes, grape juice and crushed grapes were dramatically lowered/eliminated and they were now able to import large quantities of high quality varietal grapes from Oregon and California. Loooking bad for the local grape growers at this point right?Well yes it proved devestating for some of the growers,those that weren’t able for whatever reason to switch gears. However the provincial and federal governments stepped in and offered all the growers a deal, yank out all your crappy vines (no one was growing decent varietals in BC at that time) and go onto other crops and we’ll pay you $5K per acre that you dig up, or, dig up all your crappy vines and replace them with high quality varietals and we’ll pay you $10K an acre (not coincidentaly the approx cost of planting an acre of high quality vines).Combining that with a change in winery regulations that allowed for the creation of estate and farmgate wineries and we created a whole new industry here in BC. An industry that is producing some of the best white wines in the world, the best ice wines in the world (sorry Ontario you are barely in the running on ice wines) and in a few wineries some fairly decent reds (basically we don’t have a long/hot enough growing season for REALLY good reds). It has had the most remarkable oositive economic impact on the Okanagan region and now is spreading out to other parts of the province where small wineries are popping up. To say it has been a tourism boon would be grossly understating the effect. In this instance free trade has truly been a win-win-win situation. Consumers get better wines at lower cost, new industry here in Canada bringing a lot of wealth into areas where it didn’t exist before, and US growers benefit by having a new market for their grapes and There are basically 3 categories of wineries in BC. The Commercial A licence with no restrictions on quantity produced or source of grapes, this is basically the older traditional wineries like Andres and Mission Hill etc. Estate winery B license which is restricted in quantity, I believe 5K gallons, and also restricted to having to grow 90% of their own grapes on the winery property with the remaining 10% coming from other growers in the immediate region. Estate wineries can sell their wines at the winery and through gov’t and private stores. The last category is the Farmgate C licence which must grow all its own grapes on the winery property, is further restricted in quantity (not certain the anount) and can only sell their wines at the winery itself.

  7. Rob Paterson says:

    Hi DaveAnother good one – Canada’s entire Ag industry is based on the idea of using our land mass to mass produce commodity components for export. I thinkt that the whole edifice is at the bifurcation point. The US would like an excuse to shut us out completelt and we see that they take every chance to do so. Europe the same.Our industrial food system whether beef, chicken or potatoes, will continue to create health problems and hence more excuses to shut access.My only hope is that we accelerate a shift to local local food systems

  8. Rayne says:

    Wow, Dynamic, I had no idea! very informative, will have to learn more about Canadian wine industry!

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Dynamic Driveler Doug’s story, while absolutely correct & wonderful, is the exception that proves the rule. While ‘free trade’ has been good for wine, it’s going to destroy millions of jobs and lives in Mexico when it starts to cover corn in 2007. As Rob implies, the reason is that wine, unlike most of the things covered and adversely affected by NAFTA, is really not a commodity that can be produced in equal quality anywhere. The principle must be, IMO “If it can be produced well locally, it should be, and be protected from ‘cheap’ imports; if it cannot be produced locally, let the ‘free’ market work its magic to allow it to be imported at mimimum cost“. When you think about it, though, not many things fall in this latter ‘free-trade-helps’ category.

  10. Doug Alder says:

    Yes I was thinking about this after I had turned my system off last night – I should have stated outright rather than implied that my example wasn’t a case for free trade but rather a case for lower provincial taxes on items htat restrict trade. Had the BC governbment simply lowered the import taxes on grapes and imported wines an action the BC wine industry of the time completely oppopsed (which at that time was run by a few very powerful families with deep political ties to the Socred party which ran BC for 30 years) they would have been put in the same position of having to compete. The same thing would have been accomplished without any FTAs.

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