US-Canada beef trade row divides opinion

Related tags Beef Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

The US Senate's decision last week to throw out a proposal to renew
beef trade with Canada has angered the USDA but been welcomed by
some US beef organisations, writes Anthony Fletcher.

"I am very disappointed in today's vote by the United States Senate to disapprove the rule submitted by the US department of agriculture to establish minimal risk regions and resume trade in Canadian beef and cattle under 30 months of age,"​ said agriculture secretary Mike Johanns.

"This action undermines the US efforts to promote science-based regulations, complicates US negotiations to reopen foreign markets to US beef and would perpetuate the economic disruption of the beef and cattle industry."

Both countries had provisionally agreed to slowly re-open their border for live cattle shipments on 7 March 2005, in order to pave the way to increased beef supplies. The beef trade with Canada was suspended after the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in a Canadian cattle herd in 2003.

After 20 May 2003, the US closed down imports of Canadian beef until August 2003, when the agency said it would allow the importation of only boneless whole muscle cuts from animals younger than 30 months of age.

But USDA attorneys argued that Canada was now a minimal risk region, and that reopening the borders would alleviate supply shortages. US-based Tyson, the world's largest meat processor, has been forced to temporarily suspend operations across a number of plants.

However R-CALF USA​ (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) views US district judge Richard F. Cebull's preliminary injunction to prevent the Canadian border from reopening to live cattle and additional beef products on 7 March is a victory.

"It's an important victory for the U.S. cattle industry, and it also was an important victory for applied science, as this court action sends a strong message that our nation's current import standards are science based and should not be relaxed simply because USDA wants to reopen the Canadian border, despite the discovery of four cases of BSE detected in Canadian Cattle,"​ claimed Leo McDonnell, president and founder of R-CALF USA.

"USDA is trying to change our import regulations that have been in place for 15 years, without having a scientific basis for doing so.

"It doesn't make sense for the United States to have the lowest import standards in the world when it comes to importing beef products from countries affected by BSE. We want global trade to be based on the same standards for every country."

The USDA nonetheless remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public health measures already in place in the United States and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both US consumers and livestock.

"We also remain fully confident in the underlying risk assessment, developed in accordance with the OIE guidelines, which determined Canada to be a minimal risk region,"​ said Johanns. "I will now work with the US House of Representatives to prevent passage of this resolution, which is strongly opposed by the Bush Administration, and continue our aggressive efforts to reopen international markets to US beef."

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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