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R-CALF Comments on OIG Report

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Today 2/7/2006 12:04:00 PM

R-CALF: OIG Report Solidifies Position Of U.S. Cattle Industry

(Billings, Mont.) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that substantiates the concerns raised by R-CALF USA when the organization filed its challenge to USDA’s minimal risk region rule (Final Rule) that allowed into the United States imports of beef and cattle from countries affected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

R-CALF USA has contended throughout its litigation that USDA officials were ignoring the science surrounding BSE, including the recommendations of the agency’s own scientists. Specifically, OIG found that USDA headquarters ignored recommendations of its National Veterinary Services Laboratories scientists.

“This report provides a documented example of how USDA dismisses the advice of its own scientists, while simultaneously assuring the public that the agency is following the science, and this conduct continues to cause great concern among independent cattle producers,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

The 130-page report, titled “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) BSE Surveillance Program – Phase II and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Controls Over BSE Sampling, Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), and Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR) Products – Phase III,” is available for viewing at www.r-calfusa.com under the “BSE/Litigation” link. OIG made 22 specific recommendations for improvements to USDA’s BSE surveillance program, testing protocols, SRM controls, and other BSE protection measures.

“This latest OIG report is just one of several recent government reports that demonstrate systemic problems arising from USDA’s premature relaxation of essential import protections, which was done before USDA had effectively implemented the additional measures needed to protect our industry from the resulting increased risk of introducing foreign animal diseases such as BSE,” said Bullard. “USDA’s actions are damaging to the hard-earned reputation of independent U.S. cattle producers.

“USDA has ignored R-CALF USA’s requests to strengthen BSE import requirements for beef and cattle from both Canada and Japan – countries with multiple cases of BSE,” Bullard noted. “At the same time, while U.S. export customers demand stricter standards for U.S. exports, the United States now has weaker standards for imported product than we must comply with in order to export.

“This is not a science based policy,” commented Bullard. “Combined with the growing list of infractions, as evidenced by OIG’s most recent report, USDA is making it even more difficult to restore our lost export markets.

“This situation will quite possibly require the help of Congress,” explained Bullard. “This report shows USDA has failed to meet the minimal standards necessary to maintain our industry’s credibility, and the report also reinforces the challenge we made to the agency almost two years ago – that USDA is subjecting the U.S. cattle industry to unnecessary and avoidable risks.

“It is past time for USDA to get its house in order, to acknowledge that it has a problem, and to take immediate corrective action to ensure maximum protections against the introduction of diseases like BSE,” Bullard emphasized. “USDA needs to implement Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (M-COOL) so consumers can distinguish U.S. beef from foreign beef, allow private packers to voluntarily test for BSE so export markets can be more fully opened, and require countries with multiple cases of BSE to implement stronger, science-based risk mitigation measures to ensure that diseases are adequately controlled before relaxing our country’s longstanding import restrictions.”

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