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The Canadian Import Situation: What Will USDA's Action Do?
By Eric Davis
President, National Cattlemen's Beef Association
Beef producer, Bruneau, Idaho

As most in our industry know, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now accepting import permit applications for a number of products previously banned as a result of the discovery of one cow with BSE in Canada on May 20. This was done after an exhaustive scientific analysis of the risks involved.

The action - and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) response to it - have caused concern among some U.S. producers. Much of this concern, I've found, has been based on erroneous information. A closer look at the situation is needed.

First of all, NCBA has from the beginning of the ban cautioned against opening the border without assurances that the risks, based on science, were as low as possible. On June 18, NCBA submitted a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman outlining the principles under which the ban might be lifted. Those principles include that:

  • All decisions on trade requirements be science-based;
  • All standards agreed upon between the U.S. and other trading partners be equivalent for both international and domestic consumers of beef; and
  • During negotiations USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service seize the opportunity to create a harmonization of animal health standards to allow the equitable flow of cattle in both directions.

NCBA will continue to insist that any and all decisions do not increase the risk of BSE introduction into the U.S.

The United States has led the world in establishing science-based firewalls designed to protect the U.S. from this disease, and NCBA wants to continue that record. The firewall precautions against introduction of BSE include restricting the importation of animals and animal products from countries known to have BSE, ruminant feed restrictions and aggressive, targeted surveillance.

Does the USDA action adhere to these requirements? It does. We are not importing any products capable of carrying the BSE agent. The decision is based on science, and does not increase the risk of BSE introduction into the U.S.

Some people, because of political motives or the belief that the reduction in beef supplies is bolstering the U.S. market, would prefer that the border be closed indefinitely. That's worse than the action of a bad neighbor: it's unrealistic and could come back to haunt us in the future.

NCBA members - cattlemen like us - have long realized the importance of doing business in a global marketplace and the benefit it pays to them as beef producers. Beef and beef byproducts that have relatively little value in the U.S. pay substantial dividends to U.S. producers when sold in overseas markets. In fact, the U.S. beef industry netted $743 million in trade for 2002.

Additionally, this decision will likely be the standard that would be applied to U.S. beef producers in the unfortunate circumstance that BSE were to be discovered here. We cannot forget the golden rule - do unto your trading partners as you would have your trading partners do unto you.

NCBA has worked diligently to ensure that we gain market access to countries around the world, and that non-tariff trade barriers are reduced. This means that once access is negotiated, those countries and the U.S. will not create artificial barriers to trade.

NCBA is proud of its cattlemen-established policy to base decisions on scientific facts. We are proud of our commitment to protecting public health, protecting the health of the U.S. cattle herd and to mitigating economic harm to producers.

I've heard it said that "this is all political." Well, that's a plus to me. I have long said that the facts are our friends and we should thank our "political people" for making these decisions based on the facts and the science and not on the emotion of the moment. We will not be lured into injuring our producers and the export markets we have developed for the sake of short-term political gain.

    USDA Unveils Plan to Meet Export Customers’ Requests for Labeled Beef
    From R-Calf USA

    (Billings MT)–On Monday, August 11, 2003, in Kansas City, MO, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its plan to satisfy the requests of Japan and the Republic of Korea to delete any beef born, raised, or slaughtered in Canada from United States beef exports sent to their respective countries. Japan had demanded that the U.S. comply with its request by September 1, 2003. The USDA hosted the educational and informational meeting for the cattle and beef industries to outline its new Beef Export Program (BEV program). Representing the U.S. live cattle industry at the meeting was R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), Kansas Cattlemen’s Association (KCA), and the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association (NCA).

    R-CALF USA representative David Pfrang, said James Riva, Chief of the Audit, Review, and Compliance Branch of the Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, explained the requirements for qualifying for the Beef Export Program:
    • All beef and beef products identified as meeting the requirements of the BEV program must be derived from cattle slaughtered in the U.S.
    • Only eligible BEV suppliers may produce beef and beef products for the BEV program
    • All eligible beef and beef products must be labeled and segregated from all non-conforming products in areas of production.

    According to Pfrang, Barry Carpenter, Deputy Administrator, Livestock and Seed Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, responded to questions and said the requirement that all cattle must be slaughtered in the U.S. is sufficient at this time to meet Japan’s request because the border has been shut down since May 20 and the majority of Canadian live cattle should already be through the system. Carpenter went on to explain that once the border was opened to live cattle, the USDA would deal with the situation when it arose.

    Pfrang said Carpenter assured the audience that Japan had agreed to this program and that the USDA expected Korea to follow suit within 30 days. Pfrang then told USDA that R-CALF USA had contacted the embassy of the Republic of Korea and learned that the Republic of Korea was continuing to demand that no beef born, raised, or slaughtered in Canada is to be included in Korean exports. “Mr. Carpenter responded that the USDA is continuing its negotiations,” said Pfrang.

    Early in the meeting representatives from Tyson/IBP asked if products processed before September 1, 2003, would be eligible for an export permit. “USDA initially said only products produced from cattle slaughtered after September 1 would be eligible. But later in the meeting Carpenter announced that if packers can verify that products processed prior to September 1 were not from Canadian cattle, then those products could be BEV certified and eligible for an export permit,” said Pfrang.

    Pfrang said USDA provided the operational details of the BEV program and the auditing procedures USDA would use for ensuring that all suppliers label, segregate, and track all products eligible for the BEV program completely through the system. “I was amazed at USDA’s ability to simplify this labeling program using existing industry documentation, records, and segregation practices for export products, especially given USDA’s insistence that labeling beef as to its country of origin for the American consumer would be excessively costly and burdensome. It appears the desires of American consumers to know where their beef comes from is taking a back seat to our export customers,” commented Pfrang.

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