Six states jump on anti-Canadian beef bandwagon

R-CALF gets state support in stopping Canuck cattle

A group of protectionist cattlemen has herded in six state governments to support its fight against Canadian live cattle exports.

According to Canadian Press, the states of Connecticut, West Virginia, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana have filed a court brief in support of anti-trade cattle organization R-CALF USA, which wants to shut down the border to Canada beef permanently.

The group is trying to get the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision in July to reopen the US border to Canadian live cattle shipments.

The border was closed to Canadian cattle and other beef products in May 2003 when a single cow from Alberta was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease.

The US Department of Agriculture agreed to lift the ban on March 7, 2005, but a Montana judge — responding to a challenge by R-CALF– blocked that move. This summer, the Court of Appeals struck down the judge’s decision to interfere with the border opening.

The states say they agree with R-CALF that the USDA was wrong to allow trade to resume and are urging the Court of Appeals to grant R-CALF’s request for a rehearing and to reimpose an injunction against Canadian beef imports. They also echo R-CALF’s claim that the threat of BSE could have devastating consequences to human health and the US economy.

“This case is pregnant with public interest of a national character,” says the brief. “The USDA’s proposed rule puts the citizens of the amici states at risk of eating food contaminated with BSE.”

R-CALF naturally welcomed the support. “Besides the concern for public health, many of the amici states realize that cattle production is an integral and substantial part of their economies,” said R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the brief was not unexpected, adding that Canadian producers should not be too worried since R-CALF’s claims are completely unfounded.

It’s doubtful, however, if the states could lean hard enough to convince the court to close the border again. Not only did the Appeals Court overturn US District Judge Richard Cebull’s injunction, but also criticized his rational for doing so.

In a 54-page report released in July, the Appeals Court panel concluded that Cebull overstated the potential harm of allowing limited shipments of Canadian cattle into the U.S. “The record does not support the district court’s alarmist findings that the ‘irreparable economic harm’ the district court foresaw from the stigma of Canadian beef will actually befall the American beef industry,” the panel wrote.

It took a while for cross-border cattle shipments to pick up after the border was reopened as skeptical cattle haulers refused to ramp up for fear of having the border closed again. But business has slowly picked up. According to CP, more than 164,000 animals under 30 months of age have been shipped to the US so far.

— with files from Canadian Press

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