A total of 81% of BEEF magazine readers responding to a Jan. 12-14 e-mail survey agree that, as a general principle, the U.S. beef industry should always stand on the best available science in determining its positions on key industry issues.

Meanwhile, 68.9% say the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) should insist U.S. beef trade be re-established with Japan and South Korea and expanded in Mexico before the U.S. border is reopened to Canadian cattle, even if it violates World Trade Organization rules.

Those two results point up the emotion, the dilemma, and the high wire NCBA's membership must navigate as it gathers in San Antonio, TX, Feb. 2-5. A top agenda item is to formulate NCBA's stance on live cattle trade with Canada.

The U.S. closed its border to Canadian cattle and beef in May 2003 after discovery of a BSE-infected Alberta dairy cow.

Looking at the science

Current science indicates the agent responsible for BSE resides in a set of specified risk materials (SRMs) — brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils and a portion of the small intestine. The prion thought to be responsible for BSE in cattle has never been found in whole muscle. And, the class of cattle believed most at risk of BSE is those more than 30 months of age.

On the basis of that science, and international protocols instituted by Canada, the U.S. opened in September 2003 to Canadian boneless, whole-muscle cuts derived from cattle younger than 30 months of age. Next up was USDA's plan for Canadian live cattle.

That announcement came Jan. 2, the same day Canada announced discovery of another BSE-infected cow. Two days later, USDA published in the Federal Register its rule to allow the importation of live cattle less than 30 months of age from Canada, as well as meat from cattle more than 30 months of age, effective March 7.

What was already a bubbling issue erupted Jan. 11 when Canada announced yet another BSE case. It was the second in nine days, and the third of Canadian origin in little more than a year.

It was in December 2003 that a BSE-infected cow of Canadian origin was discovered in Washington state. Overnight, the U.S. beef industry's $3.8-billion export market vanished. About a third has been regained but the big prize, the Pacific Rim, has proven elusive.

That, along with the prospect of Canadian cattle and more Canadian beef entering the U.S. market, have galvanized grassroots opposition to expanded Canada trade.

In fact, 71% say their No.-1 concern is the economic impact on U.S. producers should trade with Canada resume without U.S. export markets, specifically Japan, being reopened.

The second most-cited concern (62.6%) is the prevalence of BSE in Canada, given the Jan. 2 and 11 BSE discoveries. Third at 52.7% is concern over the Canadian feed ban compliance. Fourth (41.8%) is concern about meat imports from cattle older than 30 months.

  • 93.7% say USDA should demand Canada provide a detailed assessment of its feed ban compliance. And, 86.5% believe USDA should not allow meat from Canadian cattle more than 30 months of age when such live cattle are banned from import into the U.S.

  • Maintaining consumer confidence in U.S. beef (48.8%) was cited as the most important objective in reopening the border to live Canadian cattle. Second is to ensure trade is resumed in a manner that prevents economic harm to cattle producers (22.4%). Protecting the health of the U.S. cattle herd (14.8%) is third.

To view the study and comments, go to www.beefcowcalf.com.