Billings, Mont. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently is reconsidering a rule that allows Canadian cattle, as well as beef from Canadian cattle over 30 months of age (OTM), to freely enter the United States (OTM rule). The Bush Administration implemented the OTM rule in November 2007, thereby allowing the importation of Canadian cattle born after March 1, 1999, and beef from Canadian cattle of any age into the United States.
On May 15, 2009, Canada detected its 17th case of BSE [Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy], which is its 10th case born after the OTM Rule’s import eligibility date, meaning that these 10 infected animals could have been imported into the U.S. prior to exhibiting symptoms of BSE. In response to this latest Canadian BSE case, R-CALF USA submitted its second set of supplemental comments to USDA last week to demonstrate that the key assumptions made by USDA when it implemented the OTM Rule have now been completely contradicted by empirical evidence and to urge the agency to overturn the OTM Rule on the basis that:
- The 17 cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) detected under very limited testing in Canada demonstrate that USDA grossly underestimated the prevalence of BSE in Canada.
- The 10 cases of BSE that have now been detected in cattle born after March 1, 1999, completely disprove USDA’s key assumption that cattle born after that date would have an “extremely low likelihood” of being exposed to the BSE agent.
- The 12 cases of BSE that have been detected in the Alberta Province alone show that USDA’s key assumption that there were no BSE hot spots in any Canadian Province is false.
- The fact that 11 of Canada’s 17 BSE cases were born after Canada’s 1997 feed ban disproves USDA’s key assumption that Canada’s feed ban was effectively preventing the spread of BSE in Canada.
- The fact that the U.S. imported more than twice the number of older Canadian cattle than USDA assumed in its OTM Rule proves the agency grossly underestimated the likelihood that BSE-infected cattle would be imported into the U.S. from Canada.
- The fact that Canada continues to detect BSE at the rate of about one in every 10,000 cattle tested represents a rate of detection greater than several European countries considered to be of high risk for BSE.
- The fact that Canada’s investigation reports reveal that numerous herdmates of BSE-infected cattle, which would have presumably consumed the same feed that caused the BSE infection in the diagnosed animal, were being exported to the United States. Hundreds of these herdmates were slaughtered in Canada, and the resulting beef was be eligible for export to the United States, which shows that the risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. is much greater than USDA assumed in its OTM Rule.
“The OTM rule is subjecting the U.S. to an unacceptable risk of introducing BSE in direct contravention of USDA’s responsibility to prevent the introduction of disease under the Animal Health Protection Act,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group’s animal health committee. “We are asking USDA to consider overturning the OTM Rule as one of the new Administration’s highest priorities, as we cannot continue to compromise the health of our cattle herd and the safety of our U.S. beef supply if we are to maintain a healthy and viable U.S. cattle industry here in the United States.”
At the time the OTM Rule was implemented, BSE had been detected in 11 Canadian-born cattle, including three animals born after the rule’s import eligibility date of March 1, 1999. R-CALF USA, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, five national consumer groups and several individual ranchers filed a lawsuit against the OTM Rule, and in July 2008 U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Piersol ordered USDA to reopen the OTM Rule and to revise any provisions of the OTM rule it deems necessary after reviewing public comments.
The comment period for the reopened OTM Rule closed in November 2008, but the Bush Administration did not issue a final decision regarding the OTM Rule prior to exiting office, so the rule is now awaiting a final decision from the Obama Administration.
R-CALF USA submitted comprehensive comments urging USDA to overturn the OTM Rule before the comment period closed. Then, in December 2008 the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report showing that the measures relied upon by USDA in its OTM Rule to safeguard the public against BSE infection were not being properly performed or enforced. For example, the OIG found instances where slaughtering plants were not properly inspecting cattle for signs of BSE prior to slaughter and an instance where a slaughtering plant was not properly removing high risk tissues. In response to this report, R-CALF USA submitted its first set of supplemental comments to USDA stating that the OTM Rule should be overturned on the basis that it was predicated on critical mitigation measures that the agency was not able to properly enforce.For a copy of R-CALF USA’s second supplemental comments on the OTM rule go to www.r-calfusa.com and click on “BSE – Litigation.” # # # 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.