|USCA (September 14, 2007) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on September 14 that it intends to expand the list of allowable imports into the U.S. from countries recognized as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) minimal risk countries. Canada is the only minimal risk country designated by the U.S.
As written, the Final Rule establishes Canada’s effective feed ban implementation date as March 1, 1999. Canadian cattle born on or after March 1, 1999 and product derived from Canadian cattle born after March 1, 1999 will be eligible for import into the United States under USDA’s Final Rule.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) delivered a letter dated September 13, 2007 to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns urging the agency to modify the rule so that only cattle and beef from cattle born after January 1, 2003 are eligible for import from minimal risk countries. The Final Rule is scheduled for Federal Register publication on September 18, 2007 and becomes effective November 19, 2007.
"OIE guidelines require that cattle and beef under consideration for import must be born after the effective enforcement of a feed ban," explained Chuck Kiker, Chairman, USCA Animal Health Committee. "Considering five of Canada’s recent cases of BSE were born after March 1, 1999, and further considering it is an accepted fact that contaminated feed was circulating in Canada as late as 2002, USCA contends that Canada’s effective enforcement date cannot be the March 1, 1999 date as determined by USDA. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is urging the agency to modify the effective enforcement date to January 1, 2003."
"Further, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is concerned that unless the Final Rule is modified, this will result in a negative impact on the effort to reestablish export markets that remain closed today because of BSE import issues," continued Kiker. "Other countries are not following the lead of the U.S. to recognize OIE guidelines. Most of our major export markets still have import rules that are more restrictive than the OIE guidelines and the rules by which we accept cattle from Canada that are less than thirty months old."
Leo McDeonnell, USCA Director Emeritus, said fears related to the commingling of U.S. beef with Canadian beef are causing some U.S. trading partners consternation and will be difficult to alleviate if the Final Rule is not modified. "The fact that trade with these countries has not yet been fully restored clearly indicates that either there are unjustified fears about the safety of U.S. beef, or that political pressures are playing a role," he noted. "These difficulties will be much harder to address if we now open the border to Canadian animals that clearly have a potential of having been exposed to contaminated feed. Modifying the Final Rule so that only cattle and beef from cattle born after January 1, 2003 will help alleviate these concerns and places the industry in a defensible position with trading partners."
"U.S. producers have continuously been promised a level playing field in the international trade arena," continued McDonnell. "As this rule is currently being presented, it will tip the playing field away from U.S. producers. Harmonization of trading practices should be the litmus test for such trade liberalizations. Unfortunately, USDA is pressing ahead with implementation of its Final Rule containing the March 1, 1999 effective enforcement date," said McDonnell. It may be time for cattle producers to ask Congress to intervene. The industry must do everything possible to maintain credibility and preserve confidence in the U.S. beef supply, both domestically and abroad."