Saskatchewan, Canada, January 21, 2004:
Dear Secretary Veneman,
I sat down today and decided I would have to write a letter
directly to you. It's come to this because all the pleas to
the flunkies around you seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
I guess I'm not the only one who knows how hard it is to get
When you saw the Canadian stamp on the envelope, you likely
figured right away I was writing about this whole mad cow
business. But before you dismiss me like the Japanese did
to you Americans, let me tell you that I don't have a big
beef with you over our cows. Well, actually I do, but that
isn't the purpose of this letter. We'll save that for another
time, preferably after time has put a bit of space between
us and the cow from Washington state.
It’s sheep that concern me today. You see, when you
closed the border to our cattle, in an "abundance of
caution", you also cut off our sheep exports. Sheep,
it seems, have the same number of stomachs as cows. Now, I
can't figure out the connection between wasted brains and
multiple stomachs, but it appears there must be one, because
the bureaucrats who set the rules between our countries lumped
cows and sheep together.
I can see why you did what you did about banning our cattle.
At least initially, I mean. After all, we did it to everyone
else, so we can't expect much different when the shoe is on
the other hoof. And I did appreciate that you started letting
in boneless cuts of beef. It brought the price of cattle up
a bit here. Now, if only I had sold my calves then…
My defense for missing that boat is that I was following the
advice of Harlan Hughes, an American cattle specialist, who
said I would stand to cash in big when the border reopens.
Now that the border opening to live cattle looks remote again,
I need to figure out what to do about those calves. I've got
a few options here. Well, one really… it's to background
them until next fall and sell them as yearlings. Doesn't do
much for the cash flow, but at least it delays the problem.
But I gotta tell you that the real trouble is with my sheep.
It may be news to you, but sheep don't keep. I can't throw
my lambs on pasture and sell them as long yearlings next year.
In about three more months, they won't be lambs any more.
Once they hit one year old, they'll be sheep. As far as the
market is concerned, any sheep is an old sheep. While old
sheep may be great to count when you can't get to sleep, no
one wants to eat them. Well, no one except the folks in the
country to the south of you.
The people in Mexico seem to have quite a liking for Canadian
sheep. They'll take all the cull ewes and rams we send them,
and even pay a decent price. Trouble is, we can't get them
there, because your country is in the way. Not only can we
not sell our lambs to you, we can't even ship our sheep across
your country in a truck! There's no pulling the wool over
your eyes on this one, either. Nothing gets by your border
guards anymore. Heck, my truck-driving brother-in-law was
even forced to down his roast beef sandwich before your gun-totting
border patrol would let him take his reefer into your country.
I know sheep don't make much news down there. Nor up here
either, for that matter. Maybe it’s because admitting
in public that you raise sheep just gets all those tired old
jokes going, so us shepherds are pretty quiet folk. Meek as
lambs you might say. But just because we're not flocking to
the streets doesn't mean you should ignore us. Sheep producers
are taking a pretty bad bleating here, and we don't even have
the options the guys with cattle have.
And the real irony is that everyone knows sheep don't get
mad cow disease. In fact, I'm willing to bet even you and
the pencil pushers at the USDA know that. So, what possible
reason can you have for keeping the border closed to our lambs?
With the stroke of a pen you could make this baaad business
all right again. If you don't, I might be forced, like a true
Canadian, to send you another letter full of bad puns. Lord
knows, we could all do without that.
© Paul Beingessner, email@example.com
. The author is a columnist, transportation consultant and
third-generation farmer in Truax, Saskatchewan.