Monday, United States District Judge Richard F. Cebull ordered the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to maintain the health and safety measures related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) the agency first put in place against Canada in May 2003, and subsequently revised in August.
In a memorandum addressed to "U.S. Brokers, Importers and Other Interested Parties," effective April 19, 2004, USDA relaxed its BSE health and safety standards, by expanding the list of beef products eligible for importation from Canada. USDA designated Canada as "a region where BSE is known to exist" after a BSE-infected cow was discovered on May 20, 2003, in northern Alberta. R-CALF USA, on April 22, 2004, filed a lawsuit to block USDAâ€™s action, and Judge Cebull granted the cattle associationâ€™s motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
Judge Cebullâ€™s decision prohibits USDA from allowing the importation from Canada of bone-in beef, ground beef, further processed beef, beef tongues, beef hearts, kidneys, tripe and lips, as outlined in the agencyâ€™s April 19 memo to importers.
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America (USA) requested the court stop USDAâ€™s action because the agency acted in an arbitrary manner by relaxing safety standards intended to prevent BSE from entering the U.S. from Canada. USDA quietly changed U.S. policy on Canadian beef imports with its April 19, 2004 memo, which was posted deep within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Web site.
Judge Cebull found R-CALF USA was likely to prevail on its claim that USDAâ€™s decision was arbitrary and capricious, and that there was a significant threat of irreparable injury if the restraining order was not granted.
"The prevalence of BSE in Canadian cattle is not known, but two cases of BSE in Canadian-raised cows have been detected in the past 11 months, through very limited testing," Judge Cebull wrote in his opinion. "If imported Canadian beef products contain the BSE agent, USDAâ€™s April 19, 2004 action may result in fatal, non-curable disease in humans who consume those products."
"Today is a victory for U.S cattlemen and U.S. consumers," says Bill Bullard, R-CALF USAâ€™s chief executive officer. "We will now have the opportunity to show why USDA cannot circumvent procedural requirements without public notice and without opportunity for comment. We also will show, scientifically, why itâ€™s simply too soon to accept product from Canada, and how USDAâ€™s action puts the health of U.S. beef consumers at risk."