Johanns: 'Canadian Beef is Safe.'

Ag secretary blasts those who sue to keep border closed. Dan Crummett

Published on: May 13, 2005

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns minced few words this week in describing the efforts of those who have sued to keep the Canadian border closed to livestock shipments because of concerns over Mad Cow Disease.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns says "Canadian beef is safe," and those who dispute that to maintain a closed Canadian border are playing a "very dangerous game."

Speaking Thursday to about 30 members of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and other Texas agricultural leaders in Fort Worth, Johanns expressed his frustration with the legal wrangling that has landed the proposed opening of the border in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. "We'll just have to work through this," he adds.

The producer group R-Calf recently sued to halt opening the border in Montana District Court citing fears of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). The judge in that case halted further progress on opening the border until a further review of risks was completed.

"Canadian beef is safe," Johanns said. "It's trash and ludicrous that Canadian beef is a risk - and they (groups that take action based on these statements) are playing a very dangerous game," he continued.

The secretary notes Tyson and other firms are expanding slaughter and processing capacity in Canada based on the closed border.

"We have small processors in Utah and Washington that do not have enough cattle to continue operating because of this trade distorting situation, and the longer the situation remains, the worse the results will be when the 'ship is righted'," he said.

"I feel very strongly it's time to deliver the facts on this matter because we have science on our side," he told the cattle producers. "We think there is only a one in 300 Billion (with a "B") chance of anyone in the U.S. having a problem with the human form of BSE with our herd of cattle," Johanns said. "And, the Canadians are in lock step with us on their regulations, and have been since the outset of this problem when one of their cows was determined to have been infected. So, I'd say the same chances apply to their herd also."

He added, "The person who developed these statistics for us told me it's far more risky driving to the supermarket than it is to eat beef one buys there."

Johanns told the group the Canadians are expanding their packing capacity with the intentions of marketing their beef to the world. Also, he says that capacity will be continue to be used when the border opens again - likely to the detriment of small packers on the U.S. side of the border.

"It's just not fair," he says, "that people continue to cause a disturbance about this, when we cannot find a person in the U.S. with the problem."

Encouraged on more open borders
Meanwhile, Johanns says he's encouraged with progress being made to open the borders to U.S. beef export in Japan and Korea.

"Our president has been actively engaged in these talks - particularly with Japan--, and, although we don't have a date to predict Korea's business, we're encouraged with the progress," he explains. "In Japan, it's slow, but we're moving in the right direction."

We've seen renewed trade in U.S. beef with Egypt and Taiwan and that's "good news," the secretary commented. "This just builds momentum for additional trade with others," he says.

Also, Johanns notes Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are working on coordinating strategies for opening their borders and maintaining good trade relations despite the market scares that emerge within the industry.