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US Meatpackers Argue in Court for More Canada Trade

Wed February 23, 2005 2:23 PM GMT-05:00
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. meatpacking industry urged a federal judge on Wednesday to end the Bush administration's import ban on older Canadian cattle, saying the trade barrier was causing financial hardship.

The American Meat Institute, representing meatpackers who want full access to Canadian cattle for processing, said at a court hearing that the U.S. Agriculture Department's continued ban on imports of cattle over 30-months old was causing plant shutdowns and job losses in the United States.

U.S. District Court Judge John Penn gave no indication when he might rule on the industry's request for a preliminary injunction to force open the border to older Canadian cattle.

In May 2003, the USDA closed the border to all Canadian cattle after Canada confirmed its first domestic case of mad cow disease.

But the agency recently said it would reopen the border on March 7 to imports of younger Canadian cattle -- animals under 30-months thought to carry the least risk of mad cow disease. The disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to take years to incubate in an animal's brain or spinal cord.

On March 2, a federal judge in Montana is scheduled to hear arguments in a separate case brought by some U.S. cattle ranchers who want to stop all imports of Canadian cattle and beef. That lawsuit, brought by R-CALF USA, follows the group's success nearly a year ago in halting some Canadian beef imports that the USDA mistakenly allowed to enter the U.S. market.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the USDA would begin considering fully restoring normal cattle trade with Canada. But it could take the USDA a year or so to conduct a scientific risk assessment and make a decision.

Jonathan Abram, a lawyer for the meatpackers, told the judge on Wednesday there was an "irrationality" in the USDA's decision to continue banning older Canadian cattle when the agency repeatedly has said that consuming beef from those animals did not present a health risk now that safeguards on both sides of the border have been set.

Government lawyers countered that the USDA needs more time to assess importing older Canadian cattle, especially since Canada discovered two more cases of mad cow disease last month.

Tamara Ulrich, a Justice Department lawyer representing the USDA, said that importing older Canadian cattle could present logistic problems in the United States related to disposing of certain cattle parts that must be taken out of the food supply for cattle over 30-months.
ok, who is the legal expert here....

if both judges come down in favor of the plantiff, AMI and RCalf, who wins? :???:

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