NMA Seeks to Enter BSE Litigation

Group representing packer interests is requesting to be an intervenor in the R-CALF v. USDA lawsuit. Compiled by staff

Published on: Sep 20, 2004

The National Meat Association (NMA) is concerned that the survival of the U.S. beef slaughter industry is at serious risk, because of the inability of facilities to maintain efficient slaughter levels. With the U.S.-Canada border closed to all imports of cattle, sufficient livestock numbers are not available to many U.S. slaughterhouses.

Because of this, NMA asked the United States District Court in Billings, Mont. to grant it intervenor status in the lawsuit R-CALF v. USDA. The more than 500 companies that NMA represents include meat packers and processors, equipment manufacturers and suppliers.

R-CALF USA President Leo McDonnell says that perception is not entirely correct. "With over 80% of the U.S. beef export market shut down, there still are ample supplies of beef, and although industry analysts have reported beef demand as being up 6%, live cattle prices have fallen in each of the past three months to a point two weeks ago where U.S. cattle producers were receiving less than they were one year ago," McDonnell says. "Certainly such market indicators show a very ample supply of U.S. cattle, even with the near-record retail prices consumers are paying for their beef."

R-CALF apparently intends to continue and extend the current litigation that is keeping the Canadian border closed to import of live cattle. However, NMA members are critically dependent on purchasing healthy animals from Canada. The current closure has resulted in economic hardship, cutbacks in employment and production, and shutdown of at least one U.S. beef slaughter facility.

"R-CALF is trying to keep the border closed to Canadian cattle and the economic aftermath of this case could so negatively impact our members that it requires our intervention. If the situation continues as it is, it will cause irreparable harm to the industry," NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow says.

"Politics and economic benefits should not supercede the strong safeguards the U.S. has had in place the past decade to prevent BSE from entering our country through imports from countries known to have BSE," McDonnell says. "Even Canada has had such import protocols in place itself and has not taken such risks."

NMA advocates the earliest possible reopening of the U.S. Canada border to imports of healthy slaughter cattle, believing that this is beneficial both to consumers and the firms that slaughter and process cattle. Intervenor status will provide NMA the opportunity to participate if R-CALF uses the current litigation to unduly delay resumption of trade.

R-CALF, as plaintiff, is to receive five days notice of the publication of a final rule, and receives updates from USDA on the status of rulemaking every 45 days. NMA is requesting, through this intervention, the same information as is provided to the plaintiffs.