As most in our industry know, USDA is now accepting import permit applications for a number of products previously banned as a result of the discovery of one cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada on May 20. This was done after an exhaustive scientific analysis of the risks involved.
The action — and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) response to it — have caused concern among some U.S. producers. Much of this concern, I've found, has been based on erroneous information.
First of all, NCBA has from the beginning of the ban cautioned against opening the border without assurances that the risks based on science, were as low as possible. On June 18, NCBA submitted a letter to USDA Secretary Ann Veneman outlining the principles under which the ban might be lifted. The principles included:
All decisions on trade requirements be science-based;
All standards agreed upon between the U.S. and other trading partners be equivalent for both international and domestic consumers of beef; and
During negotiations USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service seize the opportunity to create a harmonization of animal health standards to allow the equitable flow of cattle in both directions.
NCBA will continue to insist that any and all decisions do not increase the risk of BSE introduction into the U.S.
The U.S. has led the world in establishing science-based firewalls designed to protect the U.S. from this disease, and NCBA wants to continue that record. The firewall precautions against introduction of BSE include restricting the importation of animals and animal products from countries known to have BSE, ruminant feed restrictions and aggressive, targeted surveillance.
Does the USDA action adhere to these requirements? It does. We're not importing any products capable of carrying the BSE agent. The decision is based on science, and it doesn't increase the risk of BSE introduction into the U.S.
Some people, because of political motives or the belief that the reduction in beef supplies is bolstering the U.S. market, would prefer the border be closed indefinitely. That's unrealistic and could come back to haunt us in the future.
NCBA members — cattlemen like us — have long realized the importance of doing business in a global marketplace. Beef and beef byproducts that have relatively little value in the U.S. pay substantial dividends to U.S. producers when sold in overseas markets.
Additionally, this decision will likely be the standard that would be applied to U.S. beef producers in the unfortunate circumstance that BSE were to be discovered here. We can't forget the golden rule — do unto your trading partners as you would have your trading partners do unto you.
NCBA has worked diligently to ensure that we gain market access to countries around the world, and that non-tariff trade barriers are reduced. This means that once access is negotiated, those countries and the U.S. won't create artificial barriers to trade.
NCBA is proud of its cattlemen-established policy to base decisions on scientific facts. We're proud of our commitment to protecting public health and the health of the U.S. cattle herd, and to mitigating economic harm to producers.
I've heard it said that: “this is all political.” Well, that's a plus to me. I've long said that facts are our friends and we should thank our “political people” for making these decisions based on the facts and the science and not on the emotion of the moment. We won't be lured into injuring our producers and the export markets we have developed for the sake of short-term political gain.
Eric Davis is a beef producer in Bruneau, ID, and the current president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.