Smart man!Now is the time to reopen U.S.-Canada border
By Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation
The United States must maintain its credibility as a leader in world agricultural trade. By using our position of leadership to reform world trade rules we will win greater access for all our farm products, including U.S. beef.
The only way we can maintain that stature is by focusing clearly on the use of sound, logical science in all our trade dealings with other nations. This includes the scientifically-supported reopening of our border to Canadian cattle imports.
Our trade competitors on the world stage must never see us blink when it comes to trade decisions and science. You had better believe trade officials in Japan, Europe and elsewhere are closely watching our debate about re-establishment of Canadian beef trade after that nation has installed scientifically approved safeguards to control BSE (mad-cow disease).
It is in the best, long-term interests of all U.S. cattle producers to support the USDA rule designating Canada as a "minimal-risk country" for BSE. The rule has been developed through cooperation between the two countries and is based on international scientific principles.
The most important and effective safeguard to ensuring minimal risk and to halt any BSE outbreak is a firewall to help ensure that only proper feed reaches cattle herds. Earlier this year the USDA sent a team of inspectors to Canada to evaluate that nation's current feed safeguards and its feed inspection program to determine if the control measures put in place by the Canadian government were achieving compliance with the regulations.
Based on the U.S. inspection team's review of records and on-site observations, the USDA concluded Canada has "a robust inspection program, that overall compliance with the feed ban is good, and that the feed ban is reducing the risk of transmission" of BSE. In fact, inspectors concluded the Canadian feed safeguards were "not substantially different" from the U.S. system.
Keeping our border closed in the face of that sound scientific evidence would be the blink our competitors are waiting for. They would use that decision to not only justify their current unscientific trade barriers, but it is likely they would establish entirely new unscientific schemes with one goal in mind — keeping U.S. beef and other U.S. food products off their consumers' tables. There is no wiggle room on this issue if we expect to export our beef.
It is folly for anyone to think for a minute that our border will forever be closed to Canadian beef. So, while we wrangle among ourselves over allowing Canadian cattle and beef into the United States during the short-term, the Canadian beef industry is expending resources and redoubling efforts to promote Canadian beef to the world in the long-term. As they win new markets, they are taking markets away from the U.S. beef industry.
As we see beef processing capacity increase in Canada, the longer the border remains closed, the more likely it will be that when the border reopens there could be less beef slaughter capacity in the United States, and ultimately that could mean: U.S. slaughter plant closures, fewer U.S. jobs and fewer market opportunities for U.S. cattle and beef. The longer we wait, the greater the risk.
We must begin to open our borders to Canadian cattle now. Farm Bureau is rightly concerned about the economic health of our cattle producers, and we will call for an orderly transition period to smooth out any market adjustments. Our concern about the U.S. cattle industry is also why we are so adamant about focusing on the long-term good for our cattle markets and cattle producers.
A growing number of other countries are beginning to approve Canadian beef and cattle imports after assuring themselves Canada has the necessary BSE-prevention firewalls in place to protect animal health and food safety.
Because the United States and Canada have worked so closely together, our beef production systems are virtually identical. Those who choose to disparage our neighbor's science-based proposals also disparage beef and cattle from all of North America — including the United States.
The scientific BSE safeguards of both the U.S. and North American systems actually are shining examples for the rest of the world. We should not be shy about saying so. Our system was designed to provide surety to the worldwide market for beef, which offers the best long-term profit outlook for U.S. cattle producers. Remember, 95 percent of the world's population resides outside the borders of the United States.
While we express our concerns about Japan not accepting U.S. beef, and we declare there is no justification — scientific or otherwise — for the Japanese ban, a vocal few continue to fight to keep our border closed to Canada. Other countries view our refusal to resume beef trade with Canada as economic-based hypocrisy.
Further delaying Canadian cattle imports could have devastating long-term impacts on the U.S. cattle industry that greatly outweigh any positive short-term gain. A growing number of cattle producers are focusing on the long term and on a solid trade decision based on sound science. We must reopen our border to Canadian beef.
Bob Stallman, a cattle producer and rice grower from Columbus, Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation