USDA is moving forward with the details that will reopen the Canada border to live cattle imports into the United States as early as next week, notes Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns during a press briefing today. The process for reopening the border involves key USDA departments including the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service each issuing rules and providing information to Canadian and U.S. border authorities.
When asked how long the process would take, Johanns notes that the agency has anticipated the need to have rules released and all the other details involved. He adds: "We anticipated those requirements. So our hope is that we're talking about days and not weeks. It could be as early as next week, but we do want to make sure that everything is in place, that we're prepared for all of the requirements. And so that's what we've been working through."
Looming over the discussion involves the next step - the original court case in Montana where the temporary injunction was first issued. Johanns notes that the hearing is still ahead, but depends on the actions of R-CALF USA. "You know, the decision on whether the case continues is in RCALF's hands. But we will be prepared to be in his courtroom, and we'll be prepared for the remainder of the case if that is necessary," Johanns notes.
A questioner during the briefing quoted market analysts who say that major packers including Cargill, Tyson and Swift would bring in a large number of animals in advance of the July 27 Montana court hearing that might bring another border-closing injunction. Johanns notes that packers will have to meet those USDA minimal risk monitoring rules to bring the cattle into the U.S. He adds that USDA doesn't try to run the industry "but we do have requirements that all people have to comply with or all processors, all purchasers of cattle. And so our focus will be on making sure that those requirements are met."
The July 27 hearing could bring another injunction, which could stop live cattle movement again and bring another appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Given that panel's unanimous ruling Thursday, some question moving ahead with the case in the Montana court.
Johanns pushes Japan
During the call, Johanns discussed his meeting with Japan while on his Asia trip - he gave the press conference from Madagascar. He notes that in talking with minister of agriculture in Japan and indicated that Congress is losing its patience on delays to open the U.S. market.
Today, a Japanese report questioned U.S. testing methods noting that nine of 20 cattle found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy would not have been tested under U.S. standards. In response to a question on that commentary, Johanns expressed some surprise at the Japanese report. "I must admit it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. And here is why. Japan has now recorded; I believe their 20th BSE case. Their animals are older animals. The animals that we will start importing to Japan are 20 months and younger, and there just isn't the situation where you'd find BSE in an animal that young."