Billings, Mont. -- Yes, the ball is still in play -- although a distant memory for some -- with regard to the litigation filed in 2007 by R-CALFUSA and 10 other plaintiffs against the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) decision to allow into the U.S. older Canadian cattle born after March 1, 1999, and beef from Canadian cattle of all ages. Canada continually has had a significant problem with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, and the agency's latest legal notice suggests that 'the people's agency' is about to kowtow to global interests instead of honoring its congressional mandate to protect U.S. citizens.
On July 3, 2008, a South Dakota federal judge essentially ordered USDA to go back to the drawing board on its over-30-month rule (OTM Rule) and instructed the agency to open a new public comment period on the matter. He then required USDA to report the developments to him on a quarterly basis.
USDA, in its Oct. 5, 2009, status submission to the court, reported that more than 4,800 pages of comments were received and that those comments are currently in "intra-departmental clearance," and afterward will be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The agency estimates OMB will finish its review no later than Jan. 5, 2010, the date USDA's next status report to the court is due.
On Nov. 17, 2009, R-CALF USA and 39 other groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to express their serious concerns about the agency's status submission.
One such concern is that USDA says it is preparing a docket to initiate rule-making that would comprehensively amend the BSE regulations, and the criteria it will propose "would be closely aligned with those of the World Organization for Animal Health" (OIE). This new proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register for comment late this year or early in 2010, according to USDA. The 40-member coalition states that such alignment with weaker OIE standards would not achieve the agency's congressional mandate to protect against the introduction and spread of animal diseases, "particularly from such a pernicious animal disease as BSE that is invariably fatal and that also afflict humans."
In its letter to Vilsack, the group points out that he has inherited the weakest, most ineffective and liberal BSE import policies when compared to every other major beef-consuming market in the world, and that as past Senators, President Obama and Vice President Biden -- as parties to a Senate Resolution of Disapproval declaring that USDA's OTM Rule shall have no force or effect -- had objected to the very rules that exist now.
In fact, at the time when the Resolution of Disapproval passed, only four cases of BSE had been detected in Canadian-born cattle, and no post-feed ban BSE cases had been detected. Since then, 17 cases of BSE have been discovered in Canadian-born cattle. Eleven of these 17 BSE-infected cattle were born after Canada's 1997 feed ban, and 10 of these 11 infected post-feed ban cattle were eligible, under USDA's current rules, for export to the United States because they were born after March 1, 1999.
The letter states in part: "We respectfully request that you promulgate BSE rules that restore for U.S. livestock, livestock producers, and the people of the United States the highest possible level of protection against the introduction and spread of animal diseases. Valid science, consumer confidence, and sound economics require the BSE import rules to be tightened according to pre-outbreak norms. This departure from the past Administration's destructive policies will improve consumer confidence in the beef supply, balance trade flows, remedy the severe financial destruction of the U.S. cattle industry, and substantially decrease the risk of livestock and human disease exposure.
Additionally, the group points out that: "The proper policy is to bring United States' BSE regulations in line with past standards, which were more closely aligned to the current standards of our trading partners. Animal health, as well as food and product safety, should be held in higher regard by your Administration than trade facilitation. Public support for such a change is clear. The industry need is clear. Consumer confidence would increase. The United States' current trade imbalances would become more balanced. Risks to animal and human health would be drastically reduced."
"Current trade policy is losing support, in large part, because food and product safety standards are negated by government efforts to facilitate cross-border trade at all costs, and this trade-trumping-safety policy problem includes, but also goes beyond, cattle and beef," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "Because of USDA's past and current persistence in adopting unproven and inapt international standards -- rather than continuing pre-BSE disease standards proven to protect consumers of U.S. beef and U.S. citizens, including U.S. cattle producers and their livestock -- the U.S. cattle industry is unnecessarily burdened by a flood of unsafe imports. The result is a large trade deficit in cattle and beef that is forcing thousands upon thousands of independent cattle producers out of business each year."
National organizations that signed on to the letter include: American Grassfed Association; Coalition for a Prosperous America; Consumer Federation of America; CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) Foundation; Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance; Food & Water Watch; Freedom21, Inc.; International Texas Longhorn Association; National Association of Farm Animal Welfare; National Farmers Union; Organic Consumers Association; Organization for Competitive Markets; R-CALF USA; Sovereignty International, Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Western Organization of Resource Councils.
State, regional and county organizations that signed on to the letter include: Buckeye Quality Beef Association (Ohio); Cattle Producers of Washington; Citizens for Private Property Rights, Missouri; Colorado Independent CattleGrower's Association; Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska; Independent Beef Association of North Dakota; Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming; Kansas Cattlemen's Association; Kansas Farmers Union; Mississippi Livestock Markets Association; Missouri Farmers Union; Nebraska Farmers Union; Nevada Live Stock Association; New England Farmers Union; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Ohio Farmers Union; Oregon Livestock Producers Association; Ozarks Property Rights Congress, Missouri; PCC Natural Markets (Puget Consumers Co-Op); SmallHolders of Massachusetts; South Dakota Farmers Union; South Dakota Stockgrowers Association; Spokane County Cattlemen, Washington; and, the Stevens County Cattlemen, Washington.
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALFUSA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALFUSA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALFUSA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.