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US Centre for Science says Canada's cattle are low risk

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SASH

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U.S. Faces Little BSE Risk From Young Canada Cattle, CSPI Says
March 21 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. consumers and ranchers are at little or no risk for mad cow disease from imports of younger Canadian cattle, a U.S. consumer group said, arguing that the debate is more about economics and trade than public health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has previously criticized the Bush administration for its mad-cow response, said in a report today that there's ``little chance'' Canadian cattle under 30 months of age will be infected with the brain-wasting livestock illness. The government had planned to start importing younger cattle from Canada this month.

`` Public health concerns do not justify keeping the border closed,'' the report by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group said. ``The current controversy about importing cattle is much more about economics and trade than health.'' The U.S. banned imports of Canadian cattle in May 2003, after Canada found its first case of the disease, which has a fatal human form.

The ban on Canadian cattle, which normally make up about 5 percent of total U.S. slaughter supply, has prompted beef producers such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Swift & Co. to reduce output. Last week National Beef Packing Co., the fourth-largest U.S. packer said it would close two plants in Kansas for one day this week, adding that ``further reductions are under review.''

Court Order

A federal judge in Billings, Montana, acting on the request of a ranchers group, earlier this month halted the U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to ease its ban on Canadian cattle and beef as of March 7. The group argued that cattle from Canada, pose a threat to U.S. consumers and livestock. The USDA last week said it will ask an appeals court to overturn the order.

All four North American cases of mad cow disease were in animals born in Canada.

The CSPI urged the Agriculture Department to quickly adopt a national animal identification system similar to Canada's. The USDA began drawing up plans for an identification system after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was found in a dairy cow in Washington state in 2003. An intact ear tag showed that the animal had entered the U.S. in September 2001 from Alberta.

Animal identification ``would do far more to prevent infected cattle from ending up in the food or feed chain than banning young Canadian cattle from the U.S.,'' CSPI wrote. The group also called on Canada and the U.S. to tighten an existing feed ban to exclude all high-risk cattle parts, including nerve tissue and intestines, from all livestock and pet food.

Scientists say the disease is spread when cattle eat ground- up parts of an infected animal that has been added to feed as a protein source. The human form of mad cow disease has been blamed for more than 140 deaths, mostly in the U.K.



To contact the reporter on this story:
Daniel Goldstein in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Steve Stroth at [email protected]
Last Updated: March 21, 2005 11:03 EST
 

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