- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday said it would allow imports of some live cattle from Canada starting next year, ending a ban in place since a case of mad cow disease was discovered there in May 2003.

The ban on imports of live cattle had strained U.S.-Canada relations and cost Canadian cattle producers an estimated $4.1 billion.

President Bush, in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin last month, pledged to speed up the process to allow cattle trade.

The U.S. Agriculture Department responded yesterday by naming Canada a “minimal risk” country for mad cow — the first country to earn such a designation — and releasing a new rule that would allow trade to resume in March.

“After conducting an extensive review, we are confident that imports of certain commodities from regions of minimal risk can occur with virtually no risk to human or animal health,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

Canadian officials said yesterday afternoon that they had not had a chance to read through USDA’s 500-page rule, but initial reaction was positive.

“It’s a welcome move by the United States. We’ve been waiting for a year and a half for the situation to be resolved,” said Jasmine Panthaky, spokeswoman at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

The reaction among U.S. cattlemen and meatpackers was mixed. Their major export markets closed after a single case of mad cow disease was discovered in Washington state one year ago. Many are eager for a set of health and safety rules for beef that would be accepted worldwide.

Jan Lyons, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and a Kansas cattle producer, said the announcement was a step toward normalizing global trade for U.S. beef.

“We expect our trading partners to base their decisions to trade with us on science, and we must do the same,” she said.

Other cattle producers want the border to stay shut.

“This rule does not provide adequate protection to human and animal health. We believe the USDA is premature in its actions,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, an association of ranchers that in April won a court injunction against a USDA rule that would have allowed live cattle imports from Canada.

Mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a fatal disorder that attacks the central nervous system of cattle. A form of it has infected humans who eat diseased tissue.

The rule announced yesterday would set tight controls on imports. All cattle, for example, would be carefully monitored to ensure they are sent to slaughter before reaching 30 months of age. USDA said mad cow disease does not develop in younger cattle.

USDA projects that Canada would export 2 million head of cattle to the United States next year, more than the 1.7 million sent across the border in 2002 and enough to lower prices.

“We believe there will be a slight decline in cattle and beef prices,” said Keith Collins, USDA chief economist.

The total U.S. cattle slaughter this year is an estimated 32.7 million head, USDA said.

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