Canadian import rules violated
A shipment of 35 live cattle from Canada which contained 8 pregnant heiferettes, including one animal more than 30 months of age, were slaughtered by a U.S. packing facility earlier this month. The shipment and subsequent processing of the cattle violated USDA rules concerning cattle imported from north of the border.
According to USDA officials, the animal’s age was questioned after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) noted a wide range of ages on a load of cattle approved for shipment to Green Bay Dressed Beef, Green Bay, WI, a subsidiary of American Foods Group (AFG).
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service learned about the suspect animals as a result of a Canadian audit of the health certificate accompanying the animals. Prior to slaughter, the animal’s health certificates, completed by a certified Canadian veterinarian, were presented to the packer and upon review, the certificates appeared complete and accurate. However, a subsequent audit of the information by Canadian officials found discrepancies between the information on the certificate and producer records.
The cattle in question were delivered to the plant Aug. 2. The animals were sent through the processing chain Aug. 4, according to Jim Mulhern, spokesman for AFG. At slaughter, eight of the animals were found to be pregnant, one of those cows was determined to be more than 30 months of age. The fetuses were removed and destroyed in accordance with USDA rules. USDA and AFG officials continue to emphasize the fact that the food chain safety was not compromised by the incident.
“There were 35 animals on the load, and an audit after the fact indicated that one of them was actually 31 months of age, instead of 30 months or younger,” said Mulhern. “The mistake was made by a certified veterinary technician in Canada and the investigation was initiated by CFIA. We took action upon being notified by USDA of the concern that an over-30-month animal might have been processed.”
CFIA officials, responsible for ensuring compliance with USDA import regulations, have decertified both the veterinarian who inspected the cattle prior to shipment and the Canadian export company which sent the cattle across the border.
AFG, upon being notified of the incident on Aug. 19, issued an immediate recall announcement on all 1,857 pounds of boxed beef that may have included meat from the older-than-allowed animal. There is a possibility that some of the vertebral column from the suspect animal was part of the product.
“Specified risk materials are to be removed from all animals, regardless of their age, however, the extent of the vertebral material to be removed from animals under 30 months of age is much less than what needs to be removed from animals over 30 months,” Mulhern said. “Because the animal came in with the appropriate documentation, it was handled as an animal 30 months or younger.”
The recall, according to USDA and AFG, was designated “Class Two,” meaning there are minimal health and safety concerns about the beef in question.
“The recall is simply a reaction to a violation of our rule restricting any cattle from Canada that are over 30 months of age,” said Jim Rogers, spokesman for USDA. “It’s a paperwork snafu and nothing else. Yes, the animal is over 30 months of age, but the health and safety of the product from that animal isn’t considered a threat to consumers or the U.S. livestock industry.”
It’s likely that most of the recalled product has already been distributed. “The amount of beef in question is 37 boxes,” said Mulhern. “It most likely all left the plant within 10 days of the animal being processed (Aug. 4).”
Rogers told WLJ last week that there are no USDA plans to suspend the importation of cattle or beef from Canada. He added that although the USDA is reviewing import safeguards, any changes to the regulations would have to go through the federal rulemaking process.
“We trust the Canadians and have full faith in their certification process, but, if it’s a day over 30-months, it violates the rule,” said Rogers.
While USDA and AFG said that the product is safe, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, which stands against the reopening of the border to Canadian cattle, said the incident is proof that BSE prevention measures are not stringent enough.
“This incident shows a failure of several key BSE firewalls USDA claims exist for Canadian cattle imports,” said Leo McDonnell, president of R-CALF. “USDA is trying to argue this cow was just one month over the age limit, but how many other Canadian cattle have come into the U.S. in violation of the age constraints, and how much past 30 months of age are they?”
McDonnell also indicated that this situation strengthens his group’s resolve when it comes to reinstating the ban against Canadian cattle and beef entering the U.S. In early July, a temporary restraining order, which was requested by R-CALF, was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Seattle, WA.
“Not only do we have to wonder whether some Canadians are falsifying their age certificates, but we also have to be concerned with USDA’s ongoing trail of repeated failures to assure compliance with its own BSE rules, which is resulting in unnecessary and avoidable risks to both U.S. consumers and the U.S. cattle herd,” said McDonnell. “USDA convinced the Ninth Circuit that the U.S. was protected from the possibility of contaminated tissue entering the U.S. food supply because the U.S. had ‘created a virtually impenetrable barrier to the introduction or spread of BSE,’ and obviously, USDA was wrong.”
R-CALF also indicated it will work even harder toward getting mandatory country of origin labeling implemented immediately for meat and meat products.
“Only with a label can U.S. consumers make informed decisions on their own, without having to rely exclusively on the mistake-prone actions of USDA,” McDonnell said. “Consumers who would rather not accept any risks associated with a particular country’s beef could, with a country-of-origin label, choose to purchase only beef born, raised, and processed in the country of their choosing. This should be a fundamental right for U.S. consumers. Under the current system, consumers have no such right.”— Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor
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