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050118 Canadian Beef Safe, U.S. Meat Packers Insist

January 4, 2005

Washington - A group representing American meat packers is calling on the U.S. government to reopen the border to all Canadian cattle, not just cows under 30 months of age.

Mark Dopp of the American Meat Association says all Canadian cattle should be allowed into the U.S., given that the two countries now have almost identical rules in place when it comes to testing for and dealing with cases of mad cow disease.

"Calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin sister ugly," he said.

Dopp was reacting to statements by a ranchers' lobby group called R-CALF, which has begun pushing members of Congress to keep the U.S. border closed to Canadian cattle.

They say Canadian cattle are still unsafe, pointing to news this week that an eight-year-old Alberta cow was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"We just think those types of allegations ... it's essentially fear- mongering," said Dopp. "And I think it's inappropriate."

On Dec. 29, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that the border would reopen to young cattle on March 7, after it reclassified Canada as a "minimal-risk region" for BSE.

"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," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said as she announced the policy change.

The border had been closed to all live cattle coming from Canada since May 2003, when a cow in Alberta was found to have BSE.

Late that same year, a cow in Washington state was diagnosed with the disease. It had been imported from Canada before the border closed.

The American meat-packing industry estimates it has lost nearly $1.7 billion US because of the border closure, since it has had to pay American ranchers more for cows as the supply of animals dwindled.

Canada considered 'minimal risk' country

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said Canada's latest case of the disease is unfortunate but will not affect the decision to reopen the border.

Under the new "minimal risk" classification, the U.S. will not close its borders unless Canada records two or more cases of BSE per one million cattle older than 24 months of age in each of four consecutive years.

That means Canada can have up to 11 cases and still be considered a safe country when it comes to cattle exports.


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