August 29, 2005
Just when you think all the ballyhoo about the Canadian border is over, someone has to go and push the “fools button”. The calamity of errors over the Canadian import rule and BSE testing continue; this time it was the Canadian Food Safety Agency that messed up. You would think that with the sensitivity toward BSE and trade with Canada that the agencies would go out of their way to insure accuracy of import and testing standards.
Last week, it was discovered that a heiferette over 30 months old went through a processing plant in Wisconsin. Then, to top it off, the load of 35 Canadian fed cattle produced eight pregnant heifers.
Apparently, the Canadian CFIA vet had an arthritic arm and palpated the heiferettes with his other arm and consequently missed the pregnant heifers. This vet, and the exporter, were both de-certified as a result of the episode.
Verifying age on these cattle through dentition isn’t 100 percent accurate and the idea that we’re going to get them all would be a bit unrealistic. A month or two difference in the age shouldn’t be that big a deal and I would suggest that 99.9 percent would be more realistic. However, putting eight pregnant heifers on a truck destined for a U.S. packing plant is a pretty big mistake and it is unthinkable that a qualified vet could miss these pregnant heiferettes.
As I said, 99.9 percent accuracy on age would be good enough for me, but for groups like Public Citizen and R-Calf USA who want to keep the border closed, they would certainly require 100% compliance. Their cause to keep Canadian live cattle out of the country just received a shot in the arm and justification for mandatory country of origin labeling was also bolstered. Now, perhaps add a spaying requirement is next.
Unfortunately, the beef from this cow over 30 months old made it into the food supply. The product has been recalled, and although it probably has been consumed, it is unlikely there is any human health risk. The eight pregnant heiferettes were processed and sent down the line also. The fetuses were destroyed, but questions remain about the fetal blood serum which has been banned from import.
At this point, the entire episode makes you wonder who is minding the store. The USDA has had their share of problems and everyone needs to take some responsibility that these imported cattle are handled properly. A 30-month animal that was actually 31 months old shouldn’t be that big a concern, but heiferettes will always be in a very suspect age window and should require much closer evaluation.
This episode casts a little shadow of doubt on the enforcement of our import rules with Canada. Make no mistake, it is the CFIA that is responsible for this one. USDA is, for the most part, out of the loop. Besides raising questions about older cattle getting into the U.S. beef supply, this situation is sure to raise some eyebrows from our export markets for both the U.S. and Canada.
There is still speculation the Japanese market could open this fall. However, the food safety commission said again, last week, they need more information to approve beef trade with the U.S. The folks at USDA say the Japanese have all the information they need. USDA and Secretary Johanns have been very aggressive in their pursuit to resume trade with Japan. USDA recently made a proposal to accept Japanese beef, which is a small gesture but says we’re not concerned about Japanese beef even though they have had several BSE cases.
Where USDA seems to be dropping the ball is on the epidemiology report on this Texas cow that was confirmed to have BSE. This episode has caused several countries to halt trade and many are waiting for this report. Sources at USDA told us that the report should be done in a week or so; that comment was made six weeks ago.
Apparently, the hold up is that USDA is waiting to test one more animal. They know where it is, but the owner is busy harvesting cantaloupes and said he will round up the cows and let USDA get their cow when he’s done picking the melons.
In the meantime, beef export trade is on the back burner and appears to be costing the beef industry a pile of money.– Pete Crow