July 18, 2005
We were expecting big news last week as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held its hearing on the temporary trade injunction concerning the Canadian border and BSE. I’m told that the issue will be more about whether District Court Judge Richard Cebull was within his means to grant R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America a temporary injunction on Canadian live cattle crossing the border.
It’s a perplexing debate when you consider that the beef we import is fine but the live cattle that produce the beef are not. It seems that not letting Canadian cattle in the U.S. because of BSE is like “the pot calling the kettle black.”
However, R-CALF is continuing to beat the drum that Canada has a far greater risk of BSE than the U.S. That may be so, but it seems that five cases in North America still is no comparison to Great Britain or Europe. Saying your BSE problems are worse than ours is a bit childish, especially when neither country has a problem.
R-CALF sent Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and the director of Human Health Services (HHS) a letter asking them to strengthen BSE prevention efforts. R-CALF said USDA and HHS are correct that the most likely routes of introducing BSE into the U.S. are through the importation of infected live cattle already incubating the disease that are rendered into feed and mistakenly fed to cattle, or the importation of contaminated meat and bone meal. The group also said the discovery of BSE in a 12-year-old domestic cow demonstrated the basic BSE protection measures adopted by the U.S. more than 15 years ago failed to prevent BSE, a foreign animal disease, from entering the domestic cattle herd.
R-CALF President Leo McDonnell said that “present evidence proves that our import restrictions, our fist line of defense against BSE, were and may continue to be inadequate.”
R-CALF has proposed five measures to improve BSE protection measures. Those measures (verbatim) are:
1) Prohibit importation of any ruminant or ruminant products from countries known to have BSE, or any country that has inadequate BSE import restrictions, to ensure that BSE is not introduced into those herds; or countries that do not conduct BSE surveillance testing at a level that would allow the detection of BSE at the rate of less than one case per million head of adult cattle, and also seek upward harmonization of standards and practices to a reasonable standard of safety to ensure the U.S. does not become a dumping ground for products banned in other countries.
2) Allow private firms to voluntarily test cattle of any age for BSE to meet international and domestic demand as well as exports and the BSE testing program for the identification of BSE, and the elimination of any animals so infected from the food supply, and to accurately monitor any evolution of the disease.
3) Track, identify, and test all cattle previously imported into the national herd, and implement country-of-origin labeling so consumers can choose to purchase beef and beef products from the country or countries of their choice.
4) Strengthen the feed ban to exclude all animal protein and animal by-products from all livestock and poultry feed, including blood, poultry litter, plate waste, tallow, and specified risk materials (SRMs) and ban the use of ruminant blood meal, bone meal, and ruminant tallow in milk replacer and colostrum.
5) Prohibit Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR) systems on cattle over 12 months of age.
This all sounds good but for the most part is already being done. Many of these proposals will be costly to the industry. Still, we haven’t applied the real risk to the proposed prevention measurements. BSE testing is fine, but to test all cattle isn’t necessary. If a company decides to test, would it imply that all other beef is not safe?
If we treat all ruminant byproducts as suggested, it would kill any market for those products and ultimately cost producers a minimum of $75 a head on drop credits. The measure about AMR would simply put that process on the junk pile.
Ultimately there is a cost to producers to implement every one of R-CALF’s proposals. The way I see it, the system is working. No BSE-positive animals have made it into the food supply, at least since the first case found in Washington.
The only element in these proposals that we should pay attention to is the part about harmonization of BSE standards. The human and animal health risks associated with BSE is so small that it doesn’t require sacrificing the value of your cattle, and most of these measures will affect the value of live cattle. The current system is good enough. — PETE CROW