MARQUETTE – Michael Broadway, head of the geography department at Northern Michigan University, has been awarded a Fulbright Research Chair. He will spend the winter 2006 semester at the University of Alberta in Edmonton analyzing the economic and social impact of mad cow disease on the region.
Broadway said the United States’ decision in 2003 to shut its border to the import of live cattle from Alberta – the largest cattle-producing province of Canada – led to a devastating ripple effect. Producers suddenly had no market for their calves, and truckers had to suspend their traditional shipping routes.
“The slaughterhouses did very well during the mad cow crisis,” he said. “Within 12 weeks of the border closing, the ban on processed beef was lifted, provided the beef came from cows under 30 months of age. Symptoms of the disease had not been identified in any calves younger than that. The ban on live cattle imports remained until July 2005. Canadian cattle prices dropped significantly because of the surplus, so slaughterers were in a position to buy the animals cheap, slaughter them, and sell them to the United States. Their profits went up while farmers lost money.”
There are two processing plants in Alberta that handled the increased activity. One is in Brooks, a small community located about 100 miles southeast of Calgary. Broadway is familiar with the facility. He traveled there at various times in the late 1990s while doing research on his primary area of expertise: the impact of meat-packing plants on rural communities. He plans to make a return trip while in Alberta to see how Brooks has adapted to changes over the last five years.
“Packing plants have moved from urban areas to rural communities,” Broadway said. “The jobs generally don’t pay much and there is a great deal of turnover. Once the companies exhaust the local labor pool, they have to recruit workers from elsewhere. In Brooks, most are from Sudan. But there are 70 languages or dialects spoken in this town of just 12,000. This major influx of newcomers, many of whom don’t speak English very well or aren’t well educated, can create rather volatile cultural conditions. I want to see how the community is responding.”
Broadway is one of about 800 U.S. faculty and professionals traveling abroad this academic year through the Fulbright Scholar Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.