050712 Montana Governor Orders Beef Inspection

July 23, 2005

Helena, MT - With Canadian cattle beginning to be trucked across the U.S. border again, Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday ordered that all animals destined for Montana be checked to ensure they comply with new federal restrictions.

Veterinarians, acting on behalf of the state Livestock Department, will inspect feeder cattle to determine if they are younger than 30 months, not pregnant and have the mandated "CAN" brand, Schweitzer said. Owners of the cattle will be required to pay the cost of the inspections, which the governor estimated would be $3-$5 a head.

Schweitzer, a rancher himself, cited lingering concerns about importing cattle from a country that has reported three cases of mad cow disease during the past two years.

"I am committed to the ranchers and consumers in this state," he said. "We will take every precaution available to us to protect Montanans and the Montana cattle industry."

He said he will urge governors in Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming to take similar action.

Montana cattle industry leaders applauded Schweitzer's move.

"It only makes sense to make sure that we're checking and we're getting what we're supposed to be getting," said John Lockie, executive director of the Montana Cattlemen's Association. "If this is going to be a requirement, if they want to do business in Montana, then they'll do that."

Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers' Association, said his only concern was whether Canadian ranchers could be forced to pay for the inspections in Montana.

Rob McNabb, assistant manager of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said producers won't pay a second time for the same inspection they finance before their cows can be shipped out of that country.

"It would be completely unjustified for them pay for it twice," he said. "In order to complete certification requirements to export Canadian cattle, all of these things are done and are on the certificate. For the state to duplicate it would be redundant."

Schweitzer said his order is not a matter of Montana officials questioning Canadian compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements. "We will trust and verify," he added. "We are not imposing new restrictions."

The United States banned Canadian cattle in May 2003 following Canada's first case of mad cow disease, the common name for a fatal brain-wasting disease called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

The ban was about to end in March when a federal judge granted a livestock organization a court order keeping the prohibition in place. A federal appeals court threw out the injunction last week and the first truckload of Canadian cattle crossed the border Monday.

Schweitzer explained that an animal's age is important because the chance for infection increases with age. Pregnant cows are barred because they could end up being used for breeding instead of sent to slaughter and that could lead to spread of the disease, he said.

He said the inspection requirement will take effect "as a soon as possible." The added cost will not discourage Canadian ranchers from shipping cattle to Montana because the amount is relatively small compared to the value of protecting the reputation of Montana beef, he said.

The inspections will occur at the feedlots where the cattle arrive for fattening before being sent to slaughter, Schweitzer said.

Pilcher and McNabb questioned how many cattle will be shipped to Montana and be subject to the new inspection mandate, since the state has no large-scale slaughterhouses. They said most imports may belong to Montana ranchers who bought cattle a few years ago and were unable to get them shipped to the state until now.


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