Canadian rule announced

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jan 3, 2005
by WLJ
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last Wednesday announced Canadian live cattle destined for slaughter and all classes of Canadian beef would be allowed reentry into the U.S. starting March 7, pending no more positive cases of BSE are found north of the border before that deadline.
Questions surrounding Canada’s ability to meet the no more BSE infection criteria surfaced later that day after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that preliminary testing indicated a 10-year-old cow could be infected with the disease. If confirmatory tests come back positive for the disease, it is unlikely Canadian producers will be allowed to ship live cattle into the U.S. and that at least some Canadian beef may be banned again from entering the country.
USDA officials indicated a new case of the disease north of the border would definitely jeopardize the reentry of Canadian live cattle and bone-in beef, but were unclear whether or not they would reinstate the ban on beef products currently being allowed to enter the U.S.
“I’m sure we will be pressured to eliminate all Canadian cattle and beef imports for a little while, but whether those requests are warranted will be looked into only if the Canadian cow is confirmed to be infected with the disease,” an aide to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron DeHaven said.
Under the new beef import regulations, USDA has agreed to allow “minimum risk BSE regions” to export cattle to the U.S. pending they are 30 months of age or younger and that beef from cattle of any age would be allowed entry if all “specified risk materials” (SRMs) were removed. Minimum risk BSE regions, according to the International Office of Epizootics (OIE), are areas of the world where less than one confirmed case of BSE has been reported within a seven-year period. Canada has had only one in-nation confirmed case of the disease, which puts them in the “minimum risk” category.
The formal announcement of the new rules isn’t scheduled to be published until the Jan. 4 issue of the Federal Register, which is when a 60-day comment period will be opened to the public and Congress, USDA officials said last Wednesday. The implementation date for the new Canadian import rules has been set for March 7.
“Public comments will be taken into consideration, but the rule could be implemented even if those comments warrant some sort of a change. That change could be made mid-stream,” an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spokesperson told WLJ. “That 60-day period basically gives Congress 60 days to file an objection to the rule, which means the rule could be kept from being implemented on the target date. That’s highly unlikely, but it could happen and we need to give some time for congressional review.”
Another USDA spokesperson, Andrea McNally, said all beef, including bone-in product, from cattle born prior to USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations banning ruminant proteins from ruminant feed would be allowed entry into the U.S. In addition, she said there would be an indelible mark, such as a hot or freeze brand, that would remain with Canadian live cattle through the time they are slaughtered in the U.S.
“Cattle from Canada will be clearly and permanently marked so that they don’t enter the U.S. breeding herd,” the spokeswoman said. “If Canadian females do enter the herd, U.S. producers will be in violation of U.S. law and be subject to severe penalties.”
She added that Canadian feeder cattle that enter the U.S. at 30 months of age or younger can be slaughtered in the U.S. if they are older than 30 months of age, but verification of their age upon entering the U.S. must be provided at the time of slaughter.
As expected, the new rules were met with mixed reactions. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and National Meat Association (NMA) called last Wednesday’s announcement a step in the right direction but said it still felt short of meeting the U.S. industry’s needs. R-CALF USA, on the other hand, was still urging USDA to contemplate recent scientific findings on BSE transmission to humans.
NCBA and NMA said that USDA needs to allow all classes of Canadian live cattle to enter the U.S., but primarily cited the need for slaughter cows over 30 months of age to be delivered from Canada to packing houses in the northern half of the U.S. There have been several instances where Northwest and northern Plains cow processors have started short shifting processing chains or shutting down operations altogether because of the shortage of older cows.
According to R-CALF, USDA has not taken into account recent scientific research indicating the prions responsible for causing the disease can be harbored in muscle tissue, specifically the tongue, and that the disease can permeate some of the membranes of the human intestinal tract. In addition, the group is very concerned with news that Canadian feed has been reportedly found to contain ruminant meat-and-bone meal (MBM), which the U.S. has banned from cattle feed since 1997. MBM is considered a viable vector for BSE transmission.
USDA officials said R-CALF received notification Dec. 23 of the proposed rule changes and its pending placement in the Federal Register, per a ruling from a federal district court in Billings, MT.
When asked if they would pursue any further legal action against USDA and the final beef import rule, R-CALF leaders said it is a definite possibility, particularly if Canada’s confirmatory testing shows the most recent suspect cow is infected with the disease and USDA continues to allow cattle and beef from Canada to cross the border.
Prior to last week’s announcement from CFIA, USDA insiders weren’t aware of any concerns that might jeopardize the new rules being implemented in early March. They said the U.S. Office of Management and Budget investigated and reviewed the final rules, and that should make any legal challenges against them “less relevant.”
CFIA said confirmatory test results were expected in three to five days, which means the results could be known on New Year’s or sometime over that weekend.
CFIA said U.S. authorities were notified of preliminary test results and said it went against its normal policy of reporting only confirmatory testing results.
“Given the unique situation created by the (U.S.) border announcement .... it was decided that the most prudent action would be to publicly announce the available information and provide stakeholders with a full understanding of the current situation,” CFIA said in statement.