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Delay in opening Canadian border to cattle

DENVER– Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) board of directors meeting here today voted to strongly urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against going forward with its plan to reopen the U.S. border to beef and cattle imports from Canada starting Mar. 7.

“Canada continues to find BSE-infected cattle in its processing facilities, and producers have not regained U.S. beef export markets following the detection of a Canadian-born cow in the United States,” said RMFU President John Stencel.

“Opening the border at this time is not a gamble U.S. producers or consumers should be asked to take.”
According to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns’ testimony Feb. 3 before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, the United States plans to re-open its border to Canadian cattle under the age of 30 months. Despite a ban on older cattle, USDA rules allow for the importation of Canadian boxed beef from animals older than 30 months.

“Meat packing companies are pushing hard to open up the Canadian border, as it will give them more captive supplies and make them less dependent on securing live cattle from independent cattle producers,” said RMFU board member and cattle producer Charles Klaseen, Crawford, Colo. “The closed border has created a backlog of older, cull cattle in Canada. You can bet that if the border is opened, it will come flooding across into the United States.” Despite the oversupply, those in the cattle-producing industry say the packing industry stands to profit handsomely from reopening the Canadian border, but U.S. beef prices are unlikely to come down much at the retail level.

USDA’s rules, which will govern the border reopening, require that all Canadian cattle be branded and segregated upon arrival in the United States. The animals and their carcasses must be kept segregated throughout the plant, presumably so that the meat can be easily recalled in the case that BSE or some other malady is discovered. USDA estimates the cost of this segregation at $10 per head or less than one cent per pound, far less than critics of country-of-origin labeling said it would cost.

“If there ever were the right time to require country-of-origin labeling for meat, it is now,” Klaseen said. “Consumers in surveys say they want labeling and are willing to pay a little more for it, and processors clearly have the ability to segregate and label in a cost-effective manner. The USDA’s unwillingness to implement country-of-origin labeling as required under the 2002 farm bill demonstrates that they are more concerned with the shareholder profits of multinational corporations than the survival of America’s family farmers & ranchers.”