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October 23, 2003
For immediate release

Agriculture Commissioners and Ministers Meet

Agriculture, Fisheries, Aquaculture & Forestry

Northeastern United States Commissioners and Eastern Canadian Ministers of Agriculture reached consensus today on a broad range of issues on agricultural trade, food safety, and plant and animal health management during their two-day meeting in Burlington. The meeting was chaired by Stephen Kerr, Secretary of Vermont's Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

Commissioners and ministers discussed several areas of common concern including the status of right to farm, humane treatment of animals, local market access for local products, attracting new entrants into farming, environmental challenges (particularly for larger farms), farmland preservation, traceability/biosecurity/food safety, controversy over GMO seed usage, land use policies and consolidation of farms and retail operations.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalophy (BSE) was discussed in detail, particularly the impacts the import bans on live cattle have had throughout the Canadian industry. Both sides agreed that Canada had moved swiftly and thoroughly to investigate the single occurrence, and that risk levels in both countries are extremely low. Commissioners and ministers agreed to urge the USDA and their federal legislators to ensure that live animal trade resume, as quickly as possible, and that the decisions be based solely on science. Participants agreed to encourage their respective federal governments to continue discussions at the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) in order to revise the BSE guidelines.

Commissioners and ministers discussed biosecurity with respect to animal and plant diseases and noted epidemics to not respect borders. Identification of livestock and farms was noted as a key requirement for a quick response. Commissioners and ministers agreed to share information on the systems being developed and discussed the need for a cross-border planning exercise. Invitations were issued to the Northeast US Animal Health Association meeting in Vermont on April 26-28, 2004. Workshops like this are an example of how regional cooperation benefits both sides of the border.

Discussions were also held on the potential for standardizing maple grades, should this be agreed upon by industry at the International Maple Syrup Institute. Quebec presented an update on the new production quota system being initiated by their industry in order to avoid the accumulation of surplus syrup and its effects on the marketplace.

Dairy issues were also discussed, with Vermont noting that persistent rumors of trailer-loads of milk imported from Canada are actually overstated. These shipments represent the return of modified whey solids after whey from a Canadian-owned facility in Vermont is processed in Canada. Similar reactions are expressed on both sides of the border, given these products are flowing in both directions.

The meeting included a tour of the Intervale Foundation grounds in Burlington, a site reclaimed for agricultural demonstration and networking between new farmers on the banks of the Winooski River. The tour included a compost facility, riparian seedling nursery, community garden and a small-scale digester project.

This was the third regular meeting of commissioners and ministers. "These meetings are evolving to play an important role in increasing co-operation between eastern Canada and the northeastern United States," said Mr. Kerr. "It provides an excellent opportunity to pursue mutual goals and to discuss outstanding issues.

"Commissioners and ministers are looking forward to joining their national counterparts from Canada, the US and Mexico in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, at the next Trinational Agricultural Accord meeting March 10-13, 2004. The next Northeastern Commissioners and Eastern Canadian Ministers of Agriculture meeting will be held in New Brunswick in the fall of 2004. Agenda items to be pursued in more depth will include land-use planning experiences and the development of a biotechnology corridor, as discussed by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Media Contact: John MacQuarrie
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