Court order stops U.S. restart of Canadian beef imports
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March 7 start date to resume cattle and beef imports from Canada has been stopped by a temporary injunction served by a federal judge in Montana.
A group of Montana ranchers filed lawsuit to continue the ban on Canadian cattle and beef products in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.
“I am very disappointed in today’s ruling by the court to temporarily delay the implementation of USDA’s minimal-risk rule, which would re-establish trade with Canada for live cattle under 30 months of age,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in a statement Wednesday.
“USDA remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public health measures already in place in the United States and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock,” he added.
The U.S. government banned imports of Canadian cattle and beef products after the Canada reported a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow” disease in May 2003.
Most U.S. beef producer groups, however, favor restarting the beef trade with Canada as long as “science-based” measures are used to ensure Canadian cattle is safe from BSE.
“In the past year alone, we have tested nearly 250,000 cattle without a single positive case,” said Jim McAdams, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee on March 1. “These test results illustrate the effectiveness of the science-based procedures our nation has implemented. Consumers understand and appreciate the steps that have been taken.”
“We believe the available scientific evidence supports the designation of Canada as a minimal-risk country for BSE, and normal trade should be resumed as soon as possible,” Carl Kuehne, president of American Foods Group, told lawmakers.
“Canada has shown that its BSE-prevention standards are equivalent to our own domestic firewalls,” added American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman in written testimony to the committee.
These measures include:
* Prohibition of specified risk materials in human food.
* Import restrictions to minimize exposure to BSE.
* Surveillance for BSE at levels that meet or exceed international guidelines.
* Enforcement of ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
* Appropriate epidemiological investigations.
* Risk assessment and mitigation as needed.
On March 7, the USDA regulations were set to allow the import of live cattle from Canada at less than 30 months of age. USDA delayed the portion of the rule allowing beef products from animals 30 months and over after three recent BSE cases were reported by Canadian agriculture authorities.
The continuation of BSE findings in Canada makes some U.S. beef producers nervous about the spread of the disease to their herds. They also warn of increased negative perceptions towards American beef by consumers.
The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) has been one of the most outspoken opponents of re-opening the border to Canadian cattle.
“The final (USDA) rule fails to recognize the scientific principle that appropriate BSE risk mitigation measures are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, but rather must be based on the scientifically determined magnitude of the BSE problem itself,” Chuck Kiker, board of director for R-CALF USA, testified.
“The United States can not merely implement rules with regard to opening trade with Canada, the United States must act to harmonize BSE standards globally,” Kiker said. “The harmonization of global standards is critically important to ensuring the free flow of beef.”
Johanns said he doesn’t believe the court’s temporary injunction is “a reflection on the substance of the minimal-risk rule, but rather a procedural delay while the judge considers the merits of the case.”