2004: “I want to get this issue solved as quickly
as possible,” U. S. President George W. Bush told a
press conference last week after his meeting with Paul Martin,
our Prime Minister. Bush was well scripted: he flagged the
importance of two-way cattle trade and the need to make decisions
based on sound science.
But, it was a script about the past rather than the emerging
Two cows -- one in Canada, one in the U.S. -- sick with mad
cow disease, are rewriting the underpinnings of international
trade in food. Those who assume that decisions based on science
will return the international market for beef and beef products
back to what we considered normal a year ago, may have a long
Using science as a base for international trade agreements
has merit. It creates a level playing field for the various
farming systems at play around the world. The majority of
those systems are rooted in sound management practices and
good science. Management and science are important, but they
are not all that matters.
Consider beef in Great Britain. Eighteen years after their
mad cow epidemic was first diagnosed, the British are still
destroying all cattle over 30 months of age. From a strictly
science perspective, one could propose testing all cattle
over 30 months, keeping only those testing positive for BSE
out of the food chain. But no, the British continue to incinerate
and otherwise destroy all their older cattle.
Consider the Peace Country Tender Beef Co-op, a tiny northern
Alberta beef slaughterhouse that has a commitment from Japanese
officials to accept their beef with open arms, IF the co-op
tests all of its cattle for mad cow disease.
Consider the order from Maple Leaf Pork, Ontario’s
largest pork processor, to all its contract producers to remove
meat and bone meal from market hog rations. Maple Leaf told
a public hearing that they were simply responding to requests
from customers in Japan -- in the shadow of one case of mad
cow disease in Canada.
Consider the $500,000 investment by Kansas-based Creekstone
Farms Premium Beef, in a mad cow testing lab and the hiring
of seven chemists and biologists to operate it, after their
manager paid a visit to Japan. He returned convinced that
Japanese officials will lift their ban on American beef only
if American companies adopt the Japanese practice of testing
Last week, after the U.S. and Japan set up a formal working
group on the trade dispute, Japan’s Vice Agriculture
Minister, Mamoru Ishihara, told reporters, "It is important
not to harm the faith of consumers."
Consumers who create markets matter more than science.
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