Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) resisted efforts by agribusiness interests to delay implementation of an enhanced U.S. feed ban designed to strengthen safeguards against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) for both consumers and cattle. The enhanced feed ban will be implemented on schedule, though full compliance will not be expected until October.
"We applaud FDA's decision and are encouraged that this decision may be a signal that the new Administration is serious about rebalancing the interests between corporate agribusiness and the interests of consumers and family farmers and ranchers who raise livestock," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "For too long the interests of consumers and family livestock producers have been trumped by the interests of corporate agribusiness, and this has caused the safety and security of our food supply to be compromised."
FDA's enhanced feed ban prohibits all tissues from any BSE-infected animal, the brains and spinal cords from cattle over 30 months of age, along with certain other tissues, from being used in animal feed, including pet food. The enhanced feed ban was scheduled to take effect April 27, 2009, but U.S. renderers and other agribusiness trade associations, in particular the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), argued that the enhanced feed ban is unnecessary and attempted to delay – if not outright prevent – its implementation.
But R-CALF USA argued that U.S. consumers and U.S. livestock producers already are being exposed to an increased risk of BSE from the importation of live cattle from Canada, a country scientifically documented to have a significantly higher BSE prevalence than the United States. R-CALF USA also argued that any delay in the enhanced feed ban would cause U.S. consumers and the U.S. cattle herd to be continually exposed to this higher BSE risk from Canada, without being afforded the added protection of an enhanced feed ban.
"Our position is that it would be irresponsible to accommodate the economic and logistical concerns raised by agribusiness opponents while higher-risk Canadian cattle were continually entering the United States," Bullard said. "We offered a condition under which a delay of no more than 60 days could have occurred, but only by first eliminating the known source of our increased BSE exposure – by prohibiting the entry into the U.S. of live Canadian cattle.
"It is an unfortunate reality that the previous Administration has backed us into a corner," he continued. "By resuming trade in Canadian cattle before Canada had eliminated the BSE agent from its cattle herd, we have already assumed an increased risk for BSE. As a result, not only must we implement measures to mitigate any disease prevalence within the U.S. feed system, but we must now also implement much more stringent measures to mitigate Canada's higher disease prevalence within our own borders. This, we know, will be costly to our industry."
R-CALF USA continues to call for a prohibition against the importation into the United States of live Canadian cattle and beef from Canadian cattle over 30 months of age, as well as an increase in BSE testing to prevent BSE from entering the food supply and to monitor any domestic prevalence of the disease, along with calling for additional improvements to the U.S. feed ban to eliminate the possibility of cross-contamination or inadvertent feeding of contaminated materials to cattle.
"FDA's decision signifies a small but important reversal of the previous Administration's actions that have endangered both the health of the U.S. cattle herd and the safety of our food supply," Bullard emphasized. "But, we must aggressively continue our fight to eradicate BSE because even the enhanced FDA feed ban remains weaker than the feed ban Canada implemented in 2007 to address its country's BSE prevalence level.
"Canada's enhanced feed ban goes beyond the FDA's enhanced feed ban by prohibiting all tissues that are prohibited in human food from being used in animal feed, pet food and fertilizer," he pointed out. "As a result, Canadian cattle entering the U.S. continue to avoid the measures that Canada has determined are necessary to mitigate the BSE risk in Canadian cattle.
"It is unconscionable that our government has exposed us to a higher disease risk without even affording us the measures believed by scientists to at least reduce that risk," Bullard concluded. "We urge consumers and livestock producers to demand that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reinstate our BSE import restrictions that were dismantled by the previous Administration and to begin increased testing, including voluntary testing, for BSE."
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-CALF USA 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-CALF USA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALF USA 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.