- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

A federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked a plan to reopen the U.S. border to Canadian cattle Monday, siding with a group of American ranchers against the Bush administration.

The border has been closed to live cattle since May 2003, when Canadian authorities discovered a case of mad cow disease, a fatal brain-wasting disorder that can infect humans who eat diseased tissue.

“We see this as a huge victory,” said Shae Dodson, spokeswoman for the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALFUSA), a group representing cattle producers. “The injunction starts now, and the border will not reopen on March 7.”

The decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, in Billings, Mont., gives attorneys of the U.S. Agriculture Department and R-CALFUSA 10 days to schedule a trial date on the merits of a permanent injunction.

USDA argued that Canada is a minimal-risk region for mad cow disease, that the rule on opening the border is based on sound science and that Canadian cattle will not endanger the U.S. meat industry or consumers.

“I am very disappointed in today’s ruling by the court to temporarily delay the implementation of USDA’s minimal-risk rule, which would re-establish trade with Canada for live cattle under 30 months of age,” said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns.

R-CALFUSA attorneys said Canadian cattle are not safe and opening the border would undermine consumer confidence in U.S. beef. The group points to the discovery of two additional cases of the disease since December as evidence that mad cow disease is not under control in Canada.

The new rule would have allowed only cattle least likely to carry the disease — those 30 months or younger — into the United States. Some cuts of meat from younger animals already are allowed in from Canada.

Canada’s government and ranchers have maintained that the country’s food safety system is adequate to ensure healthy animals and have chafed at the border closing. Canada’s No. 1 export market is the United States, and its cattle industry is geared toward raising calves and shipping them to the United States for slaughter.

Canada’s government considered the border opening a priority and lobbied President Bush for trade resumption during a November summit in Ottawa.

“We will use every possible measure we can to get the border reopened again,” Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson told CBC News.

Some U.S. industry groups also are pressing for a border opening. The American Meat Institute, a meat processors association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a trade group for ranchers, want to allow Canadian cattle into the United States.

“The prolonged border closure with Canada is not only causing long-term structural damage to the meat industry in the U.S., but has hurt many hardworking American families who earn their living processing Canadian cattle and beef products,” said J. Patrick Boyle, AMI’s president and chief executive officer.

NCBA hopes the U.S. rule will set a precedent for nations that have banned American beef since a single case was discovered in Washington state in December 2003.

Mad cow disease is officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

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