News spread like wildfire Wednesday of U.S District Judge Richard Cebull's decision in his Billings, MT, courtroom that USDA could not open the border to Canadian live cattle on Monday as scheduled. Then, yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed -- by a 52-46 margin -- a joint resolution of disapproval (JRD4) sending USDA the message that it also disagrees with proposals to reopen the Canadian border on March 7.
R-CALF-USA had asked Cebull to block USDA's plans to implement its final rule opening the border to feeder and fed cattle. R-CALF disputes USDA's claims that the threat of introduction of BSE to U.S. cattle and beef supplies from the Canadian cattle exports should be considered "minimal risk."
"The serious irreparable harm that will occur when Canadian cattle and meat enter the U.S. and commingle with the U.S. meat supply justifies the issuance of a preliminary injunction preventing the expansion of imports allowed under the final rule pending a review on the merits," Cebull said in his opinion.
Cebull also gave R-CALF and USDA attorneys 10 days to develop a timetable for a full trial on R-CALF's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting Canadian imports. Unless there's an appeal of Cebull's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by USDA, speculation is that a trial on the issue of the safety of Canadian cattle might not be set until mid summer or early fall.
Authored by Kent Conrad (D-ND), JRD4 questioned whether Canada's BSE safeguards are adequate. If passed by the House and signed by President Bush, the "resolution of disagreement" would overturn USDA's rule to open the border to imports of Canadian cattle less then 30 months of age. Indications are that Bush will veto the measure, however.
Ag Secretary Mike Johanns says the Senate's action undermines the U.S. effort to promote science-based regulations, complicates U.S. negotiations to reopen foreign markets to U.S. beef and would perpetuate the economic disruption of the beef and cattle industry.
"USDA remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public health measures already in place in the U.S. and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock," Johanns says. "We also remain fully confident in the underlying risk assessment, developed in accordance with the OIE guidelines, which determined Canada to be a minimal risk region."
He says he'll lobby House members against passage of the resolution, "which is strongly opposed by the Bush Administration, and continue our aggressive efforts to reopen international markets to U.S. beef."
Meanwhile, Bill Donald, a Melville, MT, producer and president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), lauded Cebull's decision to delay the border reopening.
"Judge Cebull has indicated an understanding that this is a complicated issue that won't be resolved in four hours. We share his appreciation for the complexity of the issue and will utilize the time allowed by the delay to diligently pursue resolution of all issues potentially detrimental to ranchers," Donald said.
MSGA has demanded that a series of strict criteria be met before cattle trade is resumed with Canada.
"These are all purely economic concerns to ensure we protect our cattle ranchers and industry in the U.S. first," Donald says. "We're confident in the safety of all beef purveyed to U.S. consumers."