Bad Medicine

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 7, 2005
by WLJ
I suppose that the Montana federal judge made the expected decision. After all, he appears to have been handpicked by the folks at R-CALF. If you support keeping the Canadian border closed, you had a really good week last week. If you don’t, be patient; logic will, hopefully, prevail—eventually.
R-CALF had their request for a temporary injunction handed to them by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull last Wednesday. I’m not certain that his decision came as any big surprise, but, it was the only wild card playable in this border game. Otherwise the border would be ready to open today, March 7.
I was told, the judge appeared to have had his mind made up before any one delivered any oral arguments. The judge ordered the attorneys for both USDA and R-CALF to come up with a timetable for a trial within 10 days from last Wednesday.
At the core of this entire episode is R-CALF’s claim that Canadian beef is unsafe and that opening the border will cause irreparable harm, which is simply a means to accomplishing their original goal of installing mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Unfortunately, R-CALF has determined that the court system is their only option to trigger change. And honestly, they weren’t getting much done by working with the regulatory agencies.
R-CALF lawyer Clifford Edwards, also of Edwards Angus Ranch, Denton, MT, told Cebull it would be “insane” to allow the import of cattle from a country that has already reported two new cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) this year.
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Lisa Olson said there was "virtually no risk" from opening the border to young Canadian cattle and noted that all four cases of BSE found since 2003 in Canada and the U.S. were in cattle over 30 months of age.
Keep in mind this injunction is temporary, and it could be a while before a final decision on the permanent injunction request is made. R-CALF appears to have dug in and is ready for a long battle, at least to the limits of their $750,000 “war chest.”
R-CALF’s efforts to pursue this line of attack in court will be interesting to say the least. I would have to assume that R-CALF has literally bet the farm on winning this suit; all resources are on the table. I just hope it’s not your farm or ranch sitting in the middle of this poker table.
Taking on the Justice Department and USDA is a pretty bold effort. The U.S. Justice Department has pretty deep pockets, and I would think that R-CALF’s lawyers aren’t working pro bono. Who do you suppose would run out of gas first?
Is the cattle market going to be saved? Perhaps, but let’s be reasonable on this thing. Trade with Canada is a weighty international and economic issue and is more than likely going to happen. There may be a six-month or a year delay, but it’s going to open at some point.
The entire BSE issue has gone way beyond reason. As far as I’m concerned—no news is good news when it comes to BSE. R-CALF was chastised last year for aligning with the Consumers Union (CU), and several other groups that have a history of being unfriendly to the beef industry.
I’m not certain who initiated this relationship between R-CALF and CU. But, this is turning out to be a bad deal. Just last week, CU asked USDA Secretary Mike Johanns to consider retesting the false-positive BSE cow reported last November in the U.S., claiming that there are more accurate tests.
There is simply too much news on this issue, and if we keep beating this consumer-awareness drum it’s going to come back and haunt this industry in the form of less demand and lower prices.
R-CALF’s CEO Bill Bullard said in a recent news release, that “I think it’s more constructive and effective to pursue the legal channel,” and “We’re also aggressively lobbying in Washington, and we’re working to create greater public awareness of the issue.”
Tell me if I’m wrong here, but the ramifications of creating public awareness on beef safety—even if its just Canadian beef safety— might lead to undue fear and provide the industry with a consumer attitude problem that could damage the market. — PETE CROW