DC, February 4, 2005 (ENS): Republicans and
Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee took aim
Thursday at the Bush administration's plan to lift a
20 month ban on Canadian cattle and beef imports in
The move will harm the U.S. beef industry and do little
to quell trade problems linked to concerns about mad
cow disease, said lawmakers, who urged U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Mike Johanns to delay the plan.
"I don't understand why we are stuck on this date
given that we have so many questions," said Senator
Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat. "We should fix
the rule before we open the border."
The rule redefines Canada as a "minimal risk region"
for mad cow disease and reopens the U.S. market to imports
of Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age.
Younger cattle are less likely to suffer from the fatal
brain wasting disease, officially known as bovine spongiform
The disease spreads from one animal to another by consumption
of feed that has been contaminated by protein - such
as blood or meat meal - from an infected animal.
Humans can come down with a parallel fatal brain wasting
disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, by consuming
beef from cattle infected with BSE.
The United States blocked all live Canadian cattle
imports in May 2003, after the first native Canadian
case of the disease was discovered.
The USDA announced the proposed rule in late December
- since then two more cases of mad cow disease have
been discovered in Canadian cattle.
The rule would also open the U.S. market to shipments
of beef from Canadian cattle older than 30 months -
a move critics say is inconsistent with public health
concerns about the disease and potentially harmful to
the U.S. meatpacking industry.
That part of the rule will encourage processors to
slaughter older Canadian cattle and flood the U.S. market,
driving down U.S. beef prices and costing American jobs,
said Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton.
"Your economic science is out of Mad Magazine,"
Dayton told USDA officials. "The rule rewards large
processors for shifting their jobs from the United States
to Canada … where they are literally going to
make a killing."
USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins said the rule would
cause "a moderate impact" on the U.S. beef
industry - a contention that drew a heated response
The USDA's analysis estimates it will "cost U.S.
cattle producers up to $2.9 billion in two to three
years," Dayton said. "This is a disaster.
You call that a moderate impact and I find that ignorant
Lawmakers noted that several meatpacking companies,
including Tyson Foods, the world's largest supplier
of chicken, beef and pork, have cut operations at U.S.
processing plants because of low demand and tight cattle
supplies and indicated they will expand operations in
The concern prompted Montana Republican Senator Conrad
Burns to introduce legislation Thursday to block beef
imports from older Canadian cattle allowed under the
Johanns said he also has some concern about the apparent
inconsistency of the rule, but he vigorously defended
Both U.S. and Canadian regulators have committed to
the "two essential firewalls" needed to protect
human and animal health from BSE, Johanns said, the
removal of specified risk material from the food supply
and the ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feed material.
The U.S. and Canadian governments banned the use of
cattle remains in feed for cattle, goats and sheep in
USDA inspectors are currently assessing Canada's compliance
with its mad cow regulations, Johanns said, including
the feed ban.
USDA Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven called Canada's
oversight "very effective."
"Their surveillance would be at least comparable
to ours," DeHaven said.
But recent evidence suggests the Canadian feed ban
is far from rigorous and is routinely allowing animal
proteins into cattle feed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a
series of import alerts, Canadian regulators have discovered
problems with 10 feed mills, and more than 60 percent
of recently tested samples of vegetarian animal feed
manufactured in Canada contained "undeclared animal
There are also concerns about U.S. oversight. Last
month a USDA whistleblower outlined concerns about the
removal of specified risk materials - the nervous system
tissue believed mostly likely to carry infected material
- from older cattle.
Johanns said the agency expects the first report on
Canada's compliance with the feed ban by mid-month and
indicated new information could prompt a change in course.
"The rule is on the road to implementation on
[March 7], but I will consider everything right up to
that date," he said.
But a revision to the rule appears unlikely - Johanns
repeatedly said the rule protects public health and
must not be crafted simply to prop up the U.S. meatpacking
The marketplace "should determine cross border
trading pattern," Johanns said. "The industry
will restructure, it just is the nature of the beast
and the economy."
"There is so much at stake here in terms of the
international marketplace," Johanns said. "We
must think about the long-term interests of the industry."
Key to the long-term health is setting up a policy that
will enable the resumption of the U.S. beef trade with
Asian nations, in particular Japan and South Korea,
Those nations shut their borders to U.S. beef in late
December 2003, after a cow in the United States was
found infected with mad cow disease.
Japan accounted for some $1.7 billion in U.S. beef
exports in 2003 - all told the 41 percent of the industry's
$7.5 billion export market is still closed, Johanns
Delaying the Canada rule would provide "another
excuse to delay discussions and go back to square one
in terms of opening the Japanese market," Johanns
Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson said the new rule would
do little to assure Japan and other nations that the
closely integrated U.S. and Canadian beef industries
have their houses in order.
"I am concerned that until the Canadian feed issue
is resolved to the satisfaction of those markets, that
the cloud remains," Nelson said.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All