050425 U.S. Groups Support Canada In Mad Cow Legal Battle

Apr 21, 2005

Washington - Dozens of cattle and farm groups representing the majority of U.S. ranchers are supporting Canada in a legal battle to reopen the border. In a court brief filed Thursday, the groups said a Montana judge was wrong to prolong the cattle ban based on a lawsuit from a protectionist ranchers' group, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America.

In March, just days before the border was supposed to open, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull granted R-CALF's request to temporarily extend the ban until a full hearing in July.

The group claims Canada's cattle and beef products are unsafe after the discovery of several mad cow cases.

The U.S. government is appealing the injunction in a bid to resume trade in the interim but no appeal date has been set.

"We can only assume one of two things happened at the District Court hearing." said Mike John, president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the U.S. industry's largest group.

"Either the plaintiff, R-CALF, provided the court with flawed information, or the defendant, the Department of Justice on behalf of U.S. Department of Agriculture, inadequately defended the science," said John.

"Either way, U.S. cattle producers will not let R-CALF or USDA be the only voices representing the science that supports beef is safe from BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)."

The so-called friend of the court brief was also endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, 29 state cattle organizations, 18 state farm bureaus, the National Pork Producers Council and individual independent cattlemen.

Collectively, the states represented by the co-signers represent more than 85 per cent of U.S. cattle farms and ranches and 75 per cent of the country's cattle, said John, while the farm bureau represents 5.6 million farm families.

The cattlemen's association didn't want the only industry voice at the appeal court to be that of an "activist minority group with an isolationist agenda," said John.

"R-CALF's legal actions, public statements and paid consumer advertising have consistently strayed from the science and questioned the safety of U.S. beef in order to prevent science-based beef trade."

The legal brief said the U.S. Agriculture Department fully investigated all aspects of Canada's science- based system to control and prevent BSE before deciding to reopen the border to younger cattle, thought to be at lowest risk for contracting the disease.

It said Cebull erred by blocking the department's decision and disregarded the scientific evidence that shows there's a low risk of BSE being introduced into the United States, given Canada's low incidence rate, active surveillance program, import controls and a feed ban on materials thought to cause the disease.

The brief said R-CALF must show the department was arbitrary, capricious, abused its discretion or was otherwise not in accordance with the law.

Judging by the amount of work done by officials to guarantee safety, "R-CALF's burden is a heavy one," said the brief.

The U.S. beef ban began in May 2003 after Canada's first mad cow case. And while processed beef products from younger animals have again crossed the border, cattle have not.

Conservative MPs said Thursday they will will seek formal intervener status in the Montana court case to try to pry open the border to exports of Canadian cattle.

Conservative trade critic Belinda Stronach said Thursday the Tories will ask a U.S. federal judge to allow them to participate in the July court hearing.

The U.S. ban has devastated the Canadian industry, costing ranchers some $7 billion Cdn.


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