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Cattle producers 'very concerned' with ongoing strike at Cargill Dunlop facility

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Beef Farmers of Ontario are expressing their concerns with the ongoing strike at Cargill's Dunlop facility in Guelph, Ont.

"It's certainly not good news for the industry. We're an industry where we have a perishable product, the animals cannot be put in a warehouse. They have to go somewhere,” Craig McLaughlin, the president of Beef Farmers of Ontario, said Tuesday. "It will cost producers money to keep their animals on their farm, but eventually they do have to go somewhere. So they are very concerned.”

According to Cargill, the Dunlop facility and a plant in Alberta make up 55 per cent of the beef processing market in Canada.

"This represents roughly 90 per cent of the capacity, or higher, of the beef processing capacity in Ontario,” explained Mike von Massow, professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, at the University of Guelph. “This will hurt producers starting almost immediately.”

McLaughlin said smaller plants can absorb some of the volume, but not all.

The cattle could also be put on trucks, but that comes with other challenges.

"How do you get cattle to Alberta?” he asked. “You have to arrange trucking. Is there enough trucking? The cost of getting the animals there? We're coming into the hot summer. For those animals, that would be a difficult journey. They will lose weight.”

McLaughlin is a cow-calf producer and said if the Cargill strike drags on, he’ll also be directly impacted.

"If feedlots are not moving their animals, they will not buy from me as a cow-calf producer. I raise animals to a certain weight. But they have to find a home too.”

"Because they're feeding these cattle and they're getting less valuable, they're getting squeezed from both directions,” added von Massow. “So this will hurt producers. But for most of us as consumers, we shouldn't notice a difference.”

Impact on consumers

Consumers may see products from other countries in grocery stores, but von Massow doesn't expect any major short-term price changes.

That is, as long as the strike doesn’t drag on for too long.

"While this is a very important plant for Ontario, it's not a big player in the global scheme,” he explained. “I think it would take a quite a significant amount of time for us to start noticing price changes."

Cargill employees on strike at the Dunlop facility in Guelph, Ont. on May 27, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

In an email, Cargill said it’s disappointed by this outcome.

"Our proposed agreement, which the union bargaining committee unanimously recommended as a comprehensive proposal, honors the tremendous skill and dedication of our Guelph workforce in feeding families across Canada,” the email read, in part.

Cargill said it’s concerned with the hardships the strike could cause and is promising to work with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175 on then next steps once they hear more from the union.

“While we navigate this labour disruption, we will shift production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint to minimize any disruptions to our customers,” they also said in the email.

The Union has not responded to CTV News' request for comment.

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