Mr. Townsend to Mr. Hay.
Brussels , December 11, 1899 .
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt to-day of No. 27, dated November 29, 1899, transmitting copy of a communication from the Secretary of Agriculture, in which he states that he was informed by the president of the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce in Antwerp that discrimination had been made against cattle imported from the United States into Belgium, inasmuch as a regulation had been issued allowing Canadian cattle to enter Belgium without restrictions.
Pending a further thorough investigation of this question, I may add for the information of the Department that a few days after forwarding my last dispatch on this subject, No. 26 of October 26, 1899, a committee of the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce in Brussels having this matter in charge called upon me. We discussed the whole question very thoroughly, and they informed me that they had just had an interview with the British minister to the same end. The following day I had a conference with the British minister on the subject, at which time he informed me that he had been instructed to protest against the enforcement of the regulation requiring Canadian cattle to be slaughtered within three days. During the past six weeks I have had several interviews with the British minister, and we have both urged our respective claims with the minister of foreign affairs. I also had several conferences with the committee of the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce. Only three days ago I spent an afternoon at the Chamber of Commerce discussing this subject with the committee. At that time the Englishmen present were still urging their claim, and apparently knew nothing of the existence of a regulation permitting Canadian cattle to be imported without restrictions. I am therefore forced to conclude that the Secretary of Agriculture has been misinformed.
While investigating this subject technically, I have been informed by a veterinary expert who is interested in the American cattle trade in England that, except in very rare cases, the actual physical condition of American cattle when they are taken off the boats on arrival in England is better than when these same cattle are taken from the cars and loaded onto the boats in the United States ports, and that the ten days allowed in England before slaughtering is of no practical benefit from the standpoint of improvement in the physical condition of the animals, but the longer period is of great advantage to the importer, as it permits him to find a better market. If this be true, it was a mistake for me, in presenting our claim to this Government, to have put forward the argument contained in the letter of Messrs. Patterson, Ramsey & Co. to the Secretary of Agriculture, transmitted by the Department with No. 7 of 10th July last, in which the importers [Page 100] claimed that the period of three days allowed was an insufficient time to permit the animals to recover from the effects of the sea voyage, as it has not strengthened our cause in any way. The question of time allowed before slaughtering seems to be one of finding a profitable market rather than of physical condition of the animals, three days not being sufficient to enable the importer to dispose of his stock profitably.
At one of the conferences which I had with the committee of the Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce I suggested that the difficulty of finding a ready market within three days might be overcome by the American cattle importers combining and building a cold-storage plant at Antwerp. They would thus be in a position to be independent of the local market, and might ship frozen beef all over Belgium. I am informed that this scheme is now under serious consideration here. The objection to the importation of frozen meat is that the law requires the lungs to be attached to the carcass. This makes the meat bulky and difficult to pack and ship at a profit.
In regard to the requirement that the live cattle must be taken to the abattoir in carts or wagons, I am informed that this is the law in the principal cities of Europe for domestic cattle and I doubt if it can be changed.
The whole question narrows itself down to one of protection to the agriculturists of Belgium, a party which is a political power in the country.
The importers claim that there is very little profit in this cattle business with the existing restrictions. Were their business to be made more profitable by removing these regulations, the agriculturists fear that the country would be flooded with cheap American meat, thus ruining their market.
I will keep the Department advised of any further developments of this question.
I have, etc.,