In hopes of normalizing trade around the world, some beef industry groups are requesting the USDA reestablish trade for animals that present little risk to the human food chain. On Wednesday, the USDA closed the comment period for proposed rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), minimal risk regions and resuming live cattle imports.
Both the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI) support reopening the border based on science. NCBA's comments indicated the need to evaluate the impact the rule would have on U.S. cattle prices; proper identification of Canadian cattle and assurance of equivalent and harmonized animal health standards.
NCBA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Chandler Keys says he hopes the USDA will release a rule that specifically identifies exact dates for feeder and fed cattle to help normalize market conditions. He explains that the rule should be written to allow fed cattle first to provide an emphasis to fill feeder yards up with feeder calf placements.
Equivalency issues pertain to Canada's recent proposal to harmonize regulations on bluetongue and anaplasmosis. "We want to make sure that when the rules are defined they're not onerous," clarifies NCBA CEO Terry Stokes.
With identification, NCBA is advocating more than Canada's mandatory identification system. NCBA President Jan Lyons told reporters they are requesting some sort of brand that would be easier to access and identify than a tag.
In AMI's comments, the group explains that BSE prevention and control measures implemented since Dec. 23, 2003, when the first case of BSE within U.S. borders was announced, provide additional protection to the U.S. cattle population and greatly improve the integrity and safety of the American food supply. New risk mitigation measures implemented since that time require that all known potentially infectious tissues be removed from the food supply, prohibit higher risk non-ambulatory cattle from being slaughtered and dramatically expand the U.S. cattle testing and surveillance program.
"Prohibiting the importation of cattle that are 30 months of age and older, while at the same time permitting the importation of beef derived from the same animals, is intellectually inconsistent. It also calls into question USDA's ability to enforce its own regulations," says AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges. "A policy prohibiting the importation of cattle 30 months and older incorrectly suggests that SRM removal can be effectively accomplished in a foreign country to render beef safe, but U.S. slaughterers may not be capable of effectively performing the same procedures."
According to AMI, U.S. beef processors have suffered substantial economic damage over the past several months and fully restoring cattle and beef trade in North America will be a critical step to preventing further equity losses in the industry, enhancing U.S. competitiveness in an increasingly global market and protecting jobs in the United States.
Lyons reminds producers this is only the end of the comment period, and does not institute the resumption of trade. USDA has a large volume of comments to sort through. The comment period was closed once on Jan. 5, 2004 and reopened again. Gary Weber, NCBA executive director of regulatory affairs, explains once the comments are evaluated and possibly incorporated into the rule, it will be reviewed by a number of agencies within the USDA. Its final stop will be at the Office of Management and Budget for final review. Weber said it's hard to speculate the time frame, but it is "going to take some time to analyze all of the comments," he says.