U.S. labelling law still impacts Saskatchewan sheep industry

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan’s sheep producers are still negatively affected by a U.S. country of origin labelling law that was partially repealed this December, according to a provincial industry advocate. In mid-December, the U.S. senate repealed the measures, also known as COOL, for beef and pork; however, lamb was not included.

“We’re disappointed they can select some livestock sectors and others were left behind,” said Gord Schroeder, the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board executive director.

“We want to be able to compete on a fair level so that we can put our lambs into any market we want to,” he added.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Cattlemen optimistic about COOL repeal

Saskatchewan is Canada’s fourth largest lamb producing province, according to Schroeder. He said roughly 1,000 farmers are currently in the sheep business.

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“The lamb industry in the province isn’t huge, but it’s significant and it has huge potential to grow,” said Schroeder.

“Any deterrent or any restriction we have on our marketing options will hurt us, but we’re going to move forward because we have a large domestic market as well.”

COOL requires imported meat to be separated and labelled before being put on grocery store shelves. The measure has cost Saskatchewan lamb producers millions of dollars, according to Schroeder.

“It’s an option that’s not available,” said Owen Gentes, a lamb producer south of North Battleford, Sask.

“You don’t have as many marketing options which means that you might not get as much back at the end of the year from your lambs that you could have had.”

The Canadian government has fought against COOL since it was implemented in 2009. The World Trade Organization ruled multiple times in Canada’s favour. Prior to the repeal, officials threatened retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. if they continued to refuse to comply with the judgements.

“To the Canadian sheep and lamb producer industry, it’s not a victory, the case isn’t closed, COOL is still in effect for us,” said Gentes.

Schroeder said he didn’t know if the omission was intentional or an oversight, but would work with officials in Ottawa to find out. He said having the measures on lamb repealed will now be a challenge.

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“When you take the large livestock sectors and they already have it through, for them to work on a small sector like ours it’s difficult to get them motivated to do that,” said Schroeder.

“I would ask, encourage the ministers involved and the federal government to keep pushing for a full repeal,” said Gentes.

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