Senate committee grills Johanns on border issue

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 7, 2005
by WLJ
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns got an unofficial welcome to Washington last Thursday when he testified to an at-times hostile Senate Agricultural Committee hearing.
In sharp contrast to the warm reception at his confirmation hearings, Johanns faced probing questions about USDA's plans to reopen the Canadian border to live cattle. Johanns was also grilled about the lack of progress in opening the Japanese and other foreign markets to U.S. beef, as well as a lack of transparency in allowing some potentially dangerous products, such as tongue, into the country from Canada.
The big issue, though, was the USDA final rule's contradictory exclusion of live cattle over 30 months from import, while beef products from those over that age are allowed as long as specified risk materials have been removed. Contending that there are two types of science at work here—health science and economic science—Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN.) attacked USDA's economic science as "out of Mad magazine." Charging that both Tyson Foods and Excel Foods are building large new slaughterhouses north of the border, he called the USDA rule "ignorant and offensive. This is going to cost us jobs; it's like it was crafted to benefit Canada and the larger processors." The entire rule, he said, "is a disaster. It will cost our industry $2.9 billion over several years. Whose interest is this in?"
The attack was bipartisan. Although Republicans favored the rule more explicitly, virtually no one on the panel tried to defend the cattle/beef disparity. Johanns admitted that it bothered him too, and promised to review it quickly, before the actual opening of the border on March 7. He also said that he would release the full report on the state of Canada's compliance with its ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban in the middle of February, with a further report on Canada's epidemiological practices due by the end of the month.
“These reports will be critical as we consider any adjustments to current policies are warranted,” Johanns said. Though changes will be considered, Johanns added he is “very confident” that Canadian measures “provide the utmost protection t U.S. consumers and livestock.”
Johanns also said the United States has done all it can to try to convince Japan to reopen its markets to American beef.
“We’ve answered their technical questions. It’s time for the Japanese government to make the decision. There’s nothing more we could possibly provide,” he told the committee.
Johanns also seemed to indicate that the U.S. officials are frustrated with the lack of progress.
“Efforts to reopen this market have drawn on resources from across the federal government and the highest political levels,” he said. — WLJ