New mad cow case likely to extend border ban

EDMONTON, (Jan. 5, 2003) — Canadian beef produces and cattle haulers are back to square one as another case of mad cow disease identified in a U.S. dairy cow two weeks ago has delayed any new talks of opening the U.S. border to Canadian exports of live cattle.

Beef industry workers in Canada were looking forward to today when the comment period focused on the reopening of the border was set to conclude, and by some accounts, an announcement to allow live cattle under 30 months early this year was also expected.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this past weekend it would not decide whether to reopen U.S. borders to some Canadian cattle until after the investigation into the first U.S. case of mad cow disease is complete.

“Once the epidemiological investigation into the finding of a single case of BSE in Washington State is complete, the agency will determine the best approach to take in regard to collecting additional public comment on the proposal (to reopen the border to Canadian shipments),” the USDA said in a statement. The investigation is expected to take several more weeks.

That’s bad news for the Canadian beef industry which has already lost an estimated $2.5 billion in beef exports since mad cow was diagnosed in a Black Angus in Alberta last May, prompting the U.S. to shut down its border to exports of beef and beef products almost overnight. Since then, the U.S. has eased the ban, allowing selected cuts of boneless beef, and has also warmed to the idea of accepting live cattle under 30 months.

However, new evidence seems to be indicating that the most recent mad cow found in Washington may have originated in Alberta as well — icing any new talks of a lifting of the ban. USDA officials say the cow was probably imported to Oroville, Wash. from Alberta on Sept. 4, 2001. Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials say the evidence the cow came from Canada is somewhat incomplete. The results of DNA tests are expected this week.

It is now believed 81 other animals were shipped to the U.S. along with the infected cow. Officials have accounted for only 11 of them to date.

While only 20 per cent of the U.S. beef industry is tied up in exports, Canada exports over 40 per cent of its beef — 80 per cent of that comes from Alberta.

The Alberta Motor Transport Association, which has helped beef haulers cope with the ban since May, expects the worst if it’s determined the newest case mad cow has Canadian roots. “If the animal is of Canadian origin we can look at no exports of live animals for an extended period,” the association warned members on its website. “This means there will need to be a reduction of the domestic herd size to coincide with demand levels.

“We are in for a bumpy road in the cattle industry. The only question is how painful is it going to be and how many will be hurt along the way.”

— with files from Canadian Press and Reuters

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