US delays lifting partial Canadian cattle ban

OTTAWA – It looks like a string of recent cases of BSE in Canadian cattle may have some consequences after all.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this weekend it was postponing the re-opening of the border to older Canadian cattle pending an investigation into the latest positive case of BSE in an Alberta cow earlier this month. It is the seventh confirmed case (second in July) since a single cow in Alberta was found to have the disease in May 2003 — prompting U.S. authorities to shut their border to Canadian beef and live cattle for the next two years.

Each time, Canadian and U.S. officials said the cases would not affect trade policy since both countries accept the fact that future BSE cases in either country are probable.

In March 2005 the USDA agreed to lift the ban for live cattle younger than 30 months (about 70 percent of Canadian stock), as well all beef and boxed meat shipments.

At the urging of American protectionist groups, a Montana judge blocked the USDA. rule, but that decision was finally overturned by a federal Appeals Court in July 2005, allowing Canadian beef producers to export young cattle south once more.

Late last year, the USDA promised it would propose lifting all cattle-related restrictions by mid-point 2006.

According to Statistics Canada, there were more than 900,000 surplus older cattle across Canada last year.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency insists that any impact on Canada’s cattle industry would be minimal, reports Canadian Press. “For now, it’s a delay only,” said Francis Lord, director of animal health at the agency. “We had a new case and they just want to be sure that everything is accounted for in their risk assessment.”

Karen Eggert, a spokeswoman for USDA, said the rule change should proceed once the investigation into this latest case is complete.

Some beef industry officials in Canada suspect, however, that the anti-trade, U.S. ranchers’ group R-CALF USA could be behind the latest delay.
The Montana-based group R-CALF has been in and out of court trying to reverse the USDA’s decision to allow young cattle across the border.

— with files from Canadian Press

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