A condemning portrait of human health risks associated with importing Canadian cattle into the U.S. was painted in broad strokes yesterday. Two prominent U.S. "consumer" groups announced they're joining the Cattlemen's Competitive Market Project (CCMP) in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting R-CALF-USA's position in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit defending a lower court's ruling that the Canadian border must remain closed to live cattle.

Public Citizen (PC) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) joined CCMP representatives and David Domina, an attorney representing R-CALF, in a press teleconference explaining their grounds for opposing the reopening of the border. They claim USDA has ignored scientific evidence of BSE transmission and related risks associated with importing Canadian cattle.

Ken Knuppe, a Buffalo Gap, SD, rancher representing CCMP stakeholder organizations, including R-CALF, says live cattle imports from Canada represent an unnecessary risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. He says the U.S. has a large enough supply of cattle that it can meet its own consumption needs without importing cattle or beef from a country "known to have BSE."

CFA spokesperson Chris Waldrop says USDA has failed to protect U.S. beef consumers from BSE by establishing regulations and enforcement that are "little more than promise and paper checks." He says the USDA rule on specified risk material (SRM) removal is inadequate and BSE-infected materials are being fed to cattle in the U.S.

During the teleconference Domina and others representing the coalition supporting R-CALF introduced uncorroborated information about BSE and its associated risks to humans:

  • That there exists a "mathematically inescapable conclusion establishing a certain likelihood that BSE will be vectored into the U.S." within a year of resuming cattle imports from Canada.
  • That BSE is "100% lethal to humans"-- and that "anyone who comes in contact with it will die."
  • That the death of "a man in Kentucky" who recently contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease linked to a "bovine blood-based hormonal treatment" has been covered up by the U.S. government and was never reported by the press.
  • That importing live cattle under 30 months of age poses more of a BSE threat than importing beef from the same animals.
Jim McAdams, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says these points are misleading and inaccurate. He says that because current USDA rules allow beef from cattle younger than 30 months of age to be imported, "cattle under 30 months of age are not a risk given the preventive measures that are in place in Canada and the U.S."

Additionally, he says, "No animals under this age category, or even close to this age, have been diagnosed with BSE in Canada or the U.S." Furthermore, NCBA says the BSE blood transmission claim isn't based in fact.

"The objective of these groups is clear -- to convince consumers that the U.S. beef supply is unsafe," McAdams says. "In today's media conference, these groups made no statements about Canada or even the USDA Rule. Rather, they attacked the U.S. beef supply and the people who produce it. And, to think, today, cattlemen groups like R-CALF and CCPM are giving them a platform to do so."

In a related news statement, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard says, "USDA has not, and is not, doing enough to stop the potential spread of BSE from Canada into the U.S." He adds there's a consistent pattern and philosophy at USDA, "to de-emphasize its mission of protecting the health and safety of the U.S. livestock industry while the agency aggressively pursues the unregulated traditional trade models coveted by foreign governments and multi-national meatpackers alike."

The full CCMP brief is available online at www.competitivemarkets.com.

Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit court has set July 13 (9 a.m. in Seattle) for oral arguments in USDA's appeal of the temporary injunction keeping the Canadian border closed to live cattle imports. The hearing will come two weeks prior to the trial in Judge Richard Cebull's District Court in Billings, MT, on the border reopening issue.