In one decade, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has come full circle.
In 2003, it was his riding near Lloydminster, Sask., that the first cow was found with bovine spongiform encephalopathy on a farm near Baldwinton. At the time, Ritz was an MP in the Canadian Alliance party, and it hit close to home the impact that single cow would have on the country's beef industry.
Ten years later, Ritz was thrilled with the "tremendous news" that Japan was relaxing its imported-beef restrictions. It was Japan, after all, that was one of several countries to ban beef products from Canada in 2003, sending the industry into a downward spiral that producers are only now beginning to recover from.
It hit especially hard since Japan is Canada's third-largest export market for beef. Slowly, Japan has been relaxing its restrictions, ending its full ban to only allowing beef from cows younger than 21 months. The exports were still worth about $75 million a year, but after Monday's announcement, that amount is expected to double.
Ten years is a long time for producers to wait and many ranchers are probably still wondering what took so long for Japan to make this latest move and allow imports of beef from cows up to 30 months old.
After the first BSE outbreak, the beef industry was under a lot of criticism for its monitoring practices. But intensive testing and surveillance programs have been touted to greatly reduce the risks of BSE, and if it is detected, limiting the spread through measures like feed bans.
Producing meat products on such a large scale is bound for turn up problems and risks, but Canada has largely been able to keep diseases in check and the meat supply safe for consumers.
Will BSE turn up again? Quite possibly.
But Japan, and other countries casting a wary eye at Canada's beef supply in the future, can rest assured the best safety measures are in place and the knee-jerk reactions of 2003 are unnecessary.
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