Meat industry group thrashes USDA’s Canadian beef import policy
A meat industry group called the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new policy for importing cattle from Canada “utterly irresponsible and unscientific,” and goes beyond international safety recommendations.
The American Meat Institute filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, citing there is no legal or scientific basis for continuing to ban Canadian cattle 30 months of age or older.
The USDA imposed the ban on Canadian cattle and beef products in May 2003 when Canada identified a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow” disease, in a cow in Alberta. The American Meat Institute is seeking an injunction against enforcement of the original May 2003 ban.
The group said Canada’s response to the May 2003 BSE case and its compliance with the trade guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) should be sufficient. The American Meat Institute said cattle born after Canada’s restrictive 1997 feed regulations took effect should also be eligible for shipment to the United States.
“There exists no rational basis to distinguish between importation of processed beef from cattle slaughtered in Canada at the age of 30 months or older and importation of live cattle 30 months of age or older from Canada for purposes of slaughter and processing in the United States,” the group said in its lawsuit. “Canada does not restrict the import from the United States of live cattle for slaughter and processing in Canada based on the age of the animal.”
Mark Dopp, senior vice president for regulatory affairs and general counsel for the American Meat Institute, noted the divide between those in the U.S. meat industry who favor a more open market with Canada and those who want the total ban.
“Instead of behaving like the Hatfields and McCoys, which seems to be what some groups prefer, we need to behave like the integrated North American meat industry that we have become,” he said.
“The U.S. and Canada both have implemented state-of-the-art meat inspection and animal disease prevention systems,” Dopp added. “As we look across the borders, we see near mirror images of one another.”
The Canadian government acknowledged Sunday that an older dairy cow from Alberta tested positive for BSE. The agency quickly noted the cow did not enter the food supply chain and that it was born in 1996, a year before the restrictive feed ban. In 2004, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested more than 22,000 animals.
Scientific evidence suggests that animal feed tainted with BSE-infected meat byproducts allowed the disease to spread to other cattle in the mid-1990s. Humans may contract the brain-wasting disease by consuming infected beef.
The USDA said it’s pleased with Canada’s cattle testing procedures and plans to continue with its new rule allowing the import of Canadian cattle under the age of 30 months old.
“The extensive risk assessment conducted as part of USDA’s rulemaking process took into careful consideration the possibility that Canada could experience additional cases of BSE,” said Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in a statement Monday.
“Considering Canada has roughly 5.5 million cattle over 24 months of age, under OIE guidelines, they could detect up to 11 cases of BSE in this population and still be considered a minimal-risk country, as long as their risk mitigation measures and other preventative measures were effective,” DeHaven said.
The USDA published its final rule for importing cattle into the United States today. It’s available on Tuesday's Federal Register at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/04-28593.htm.