Canadian cow imports delayed

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Aug 7, 2006
by WLJ
— USDA halts rule-making process.
USDA has rescinded a proposal which would have allowed imports of Canadian cattle over 30 months of age, saying there won’t be a ruling on the case until it has completed its investigation into the most recent case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The most recent case, announced last month, was found in an animal just 50 months old. That animal had been born nearly four years after Canada’s ruminant animal feed ban was enacted.

Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said he hoped the delay would be a short one.
“USDA has inspectors here working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and we hope the delay in this rule will be limited to two to four weeks,” Laycraft said. “Since they are working side-by-side, they will have access to the information as it is being researched, but for right now, we are still waiting for specifics.”

USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said the department has withdrawn the proposal which had been under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget that would have allowed shipments of cattle over 30 months of age and beef from the older animals. That rule was expected to be published in the Federal Register sometime in August.
“If no revisions to the proposed rule are needed, it will continue through the rulemaking process as planned. Holding this proposed rule has no impact on current trade or related regulations,” said Loyd.

According to Loyd, USDA is committed to insuring the feed ban in place in Canada is working properly before continuing down the road toward restoring the full flow of cattle across the border into the U.S.

“As Secretary Johanns indicated on July 13, we have questions about Canada’s recent case of BSE in an animal born several years after the 1997 feed ban was instituted. We believe it is prudent to hold the proposed rule until the joint investigation into how this animal may have been exposed to infected material is complete,” said Loyd.

He said USDA wants to know how the latest infected animal in Canada acquired the disease, considering it had been born in 2002, well after Canada imposed feed regulations in 1997 designed to curb the spread of BSE.

“It is important to confirm that Canada’s regulatory system is effectively protecting consumers and livestock so there is no question about safety as we proceed.”

The U.S. banned Canadian cattle and beef in May 2003 after Canada’s first case of BSE. When the ban was eased in August 2003 to allow imports of younger cattle and boneless beef from those animals, USDA said it hoped to eventually end all restrictions.

Laycraft said he believed the case was caused by either residual feed contamination or perhaps through the accidental exposure to contaminated feed for other livestock.

He pointed to the enhanced feed ban put in place recently. The Canadian feed ban closely mirrors the one in Europe which prohibits ruminant animals from being used in animal feed or fertilizer.

“The incidence in Canada is fairly similar to what we have seen in other countries which have had cases of BSE. We anticipated having more cases crop up,” Laycraft said.

Scientists say cattle under 30 months are at little risk of contracting BSE, however, USDA argues that beef, from cattle of any age, is safe once the tissues which harbor the BSE prions, including the brain and spinal cord, have been removed from the carcass.

R-CALF USA President and Region Five Director Chuck Kiker praised USDA’s decision to halt the rule making process.

“The assumptions regarding the scope of the disease problem in Canada, along with the ineffectiveness of the Canadian feed ban, must now be changed following Canada’s discovery of a BSE-infected cow that was only 4 years and 2 months old.”

In addition, R-CALF continues to urge USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to publicly announce it is postponing, indefinitely, plans to allow into the U.S. cattle over 30 months (OTM) of age from Canada, and beef from those OTM cattle, until the full scope of Canada’s BSE problem is scientifically known and a new risk assessment is completed that incorporates the four separate BSE-infected cows born after Canada’s feed ban was implemented in 1997. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor