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US government impotent on Canadian beef ban issue

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Feb 10, 2005
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Southern Manitoba
Canadian Cattlemen Urge Government to Appeal U.S. Ban (Update2)
April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Canadian cattle producers urged their government to seek an end to a U.S. ban on imports of the animals through an appeal to the World Trade Organization or the North American Free Trade Agreement.

``We think it's absolutely necessary to initiate these measures and to get senior trade policy officials in the U.S. engaged on this issue,'' John Masswohl, international relations director for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said in a telephone interview.

The Cattlemen's Association and 23 other groups today sent a letter to Jim Peterson, Canada's minister for international trade, urging the government to seek a new way to overturn the U.S. ban, which was imposed in May 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Alberta.

The ban has created a glut of animals in Canada that has held down the price of cattle. The Bank of Montreal estimated in November that the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada and closure of the U.S. border and other export markets had cost Canadian ranchers and feedlot owners C$5 billion ($4 billion).

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, who say Canadian cattle no longer pose a significant risk, were unable to open the border as planned last month after a Montana judge issued an injunction requested by a group of U.S. cattle producers.

The judge's injunction, pending resolution of a lawsuit by U.S. producers, disrupted plans by USDA to resume imports of cattle less than 30 months old, an age at which infection with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is considered remote. The U.S. last week asked an appeals court in San Francisco to overturn the injunction.


``The best way to eliminate the ban on imports of Canadian cattle is for Canada to demonstrate it has eradicated'' BSE from its herd, Shae Dodson, spokeswoman for R-CALF USA, the Montana- based group that had asked U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull to issue the injunction, said in an e-mail.

All four North American cases of mad cow disease involved animals born in Canada. The Canadian government announced the latest two cases in January.


A Canadian appeal to the World Trade Organization would be ``a complication,'' USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said in a telephone interview. ``The U.S. government has already taken all the actions it can to reestablish trade.''

The Agriculture Department's plan, which includes designating Canada as a minimal-risk region for mad cow disease, ``is the product of a multiyear, deliberative, transparent and science- based process to ensure that human and animal health are fully protected,'' the U.S. government said last month.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said last week that the domestic meatpacking industry will permanently lose jobs to Canada unless the ban is lifted soon. Canada's cattle processing capacity had increased 20 percent in the past year and there are projections it would increase another 10 percent by the end of this year, he said in March.

The Agriculture Department, in an economic analysis released in December, said the cattle ban had created a situation where Canadian meatpackers had been able to buy cows for as little as 17 cents a pound and sell the processed beef in the U.S. for about $1.23 a pound, while U.S. packers were buying similar animals at 55 cents a pound.

Mad cow disease has a human form that has been blamed for more than 140 deaths, mostly in the U.K.

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