151As Canada reels from the discovery of a third case of mad cow disease the second in two weeks U.S. cattlemen and trade groups are divided over how the American industry and the U.S. government should react.
Jan. 13As Canada reels from the discovery of a third case of mad cow disease the second in two weeks U.S. cattlemen and trade groups are divided over how the American industry and the U.S. government should react.
"We haven't heard a lot from our members yet, but there are concerns, and they are coming from the rank and file," said Todd Domer, spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has hit hard.
The combination of the closing of the Canadian border after the first case was found there in May 2003, and the loss of export markets after the discovery of one case in Washington state in December 2003, has caused layoffs and reduced work loads at packing plants.
Just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture had decided to reopen the border to imports of live Canadian cattle under 30 months of age, the new cases raise new concerns.
Many Kansas cattlemen say the decision should be carefully weighed and perhaps delayed.
That concern is echoed at the national level.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, an organization strongly in support of normalized trade relations around the world, has asked for a "full investigation" of the compliance of the Canadian industry with a 1997 ban on ruminant-derived protein in cattle feed.
The animal most recently confirmed to have the brain-wasting disease was born after the feed ban was in effect.
"It really concerns me that Canada might not have been strictly policing the feed ban. If we learn that they have not been . . . well, that really tarnishes the ability to get the movement of live cattle going again," said Council Grove cattleman Tom Moxley.
The main concern comes from USDA plans to resume exports of Canadian live cattle and increase imports of boxed beef from Canada on March 7.
"At this time, we are not asking for a delay in that rule. We still understand the importance of normalizing trade," Domer said. "But we support the NCBA decision asking for a full investigation of compliance. A lot of concern is out there. The common cowboys . . . want to protect their economic interest and the health of their herds. But they want enough information to make a qualified decision."
R-Calf, a trade group critical of the government and the mainstream U.S. cattle industry, has filed a lawsuit to block reimportation of Canadian beef, contending that re-opening the border would place the U.S. cattle industry at risk.
Moxley said his concern is that politics will take control of the decision-making process.
"What we need more than anything is to keep this on a scientific basis," he said. "We don't need to go down the road of protectionism. That won't be good for the industry."
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