Beef Industry Clashes on Canada Border Reopening

R-CALF USA has threatened to challenge USDA's rule to resume live cattle trade with Canada. NCBA opposes the litigation, saying it threatens opening of international markets. Compiled by staff

Published on: Apr 20, 2004

Nearly a year has passed since Canada has been banned from trading live cattle with the United States because of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The USDA has tried to move ahead a rule that would reopen the border to live cattle under 30 months of age, since scientific knowledge shows it is highly unlikely younger animals exhibit the disease.

Recently R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) has threatened to sue the USDA to keep the border closed until Canada is recognized internationally as "BSE-Free." R-CALF USA has retained lawyers and experts to challenge the rule in court including animal health experts, economists, and disease risk assessment experts to provide scientific opinions regarding the probable economic and health risks associated with a weakening of the United State’s principle disease prevention safeguard.

The comment period for the border reopening proposed rule closed on April 7. R-CALF USA President Leo McDonnell states the R-CALF USA comments submitted to USDA reflect the expert input from these attorneys and scientists and that R-CALF USA is now preparing to address USDA’s final decision in this matter, which may lead to a significant court battle. "However, it is our sincere hope that USDA will now recognize the unacceptable risk this proposed rule creates and will decide, on its own, to forego efforts to subject the U.S. cattle industry to those risks," he says.

According to the officers and executive committee of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), efforts to build a global market for U.S. beef based on science would be harmed by frivolous litigation against USDA to close the U.S. border to Canadian beef and cattle. Passed in an NCBA Executive Committee teleconference last Friday was the following statement: "The NCBA Executive Committee, comprised of cattlemen from across the country, opposes this type of lawsuit that restricts the opportunity to reopen international markets that benefit U.S. cattle producers."

According to NCBA President Jan Lyons, a cattle and beef producer from Manhattan, Kan., efforts to recapture the $13-15 per hundredweight lost to beef exports following the Dec. 23 incident in Washington state would suffer as a result of R-CALF's action.

"We really can't expect our export partners to base their decisions on science if we're not willing to do the same thing with those who export products to us," Lyons says. "When it comes to Canada, we expect that border to be opened in such a way that it would not harm our domestic market; that Canadian heifers be permanently identified and not allowed to enter the U.S. breeding herd through feedlots; and that Canada abide by equivalency principles on cattle and beef they so that the U.S. has unrestricted movement of cattle and beef to Canada.

"At the same time, we want to assure that Japan and other importing countries abide by internationally accepted science in their trade with the United States. We firmly believe the science provides assurances to all beef consumers, both here and abroad, that U.S. beef is safe. We simply cannot address international trade one country at a time."

Lyons says the best way to recapture losses due to trade sanctions against the U.S. is to show the world how to conduct trade based on science, not to work overtime to create new trade sanctions against countries.

"If we applied the R-CALF criteria of 'prohibiting imports of live cattle or beef from countries with BSE in their herds,' then other countries, like Japan, would apply the same standard to us - regardless of the animal's origin," Lyons says.

R-CALF's McDonnell says the member of his organization are "disappointed that USDA may abandon the science-based animal health regulations that serve as the primary firewall protecting the United States from BSE." He adds, "We are tired of USDA bowing to pressure from the Canadian government and multinational beef processors when the health of U.S. consumers and the cattle industry are at stake."

A Canadian newspaper reports that this has become somewhat of a "political football south of the border" due to an election year. Ten U.S. senators (including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry) sent a letter to the Bush administration demanding Canadian cattle be barred, indefinitely.