Livestock disease prevention is on the mind of nearly every cattle producer in the country. And on March 26, while in Billings, MT, President George W. Bush was reminded that this is one of the critical issues facing the U.S. livestock industry.

The Bush administration must do everything possible to protect U.S. beef producers and consumers from possible international disease risks, the Montana Stockgrowers Association president told Bush in a special meeting held at a farm supply store in Montana’s largest city.

Bill Garrison, a rancher from Glen, MT, told Bush that everything must be done to ensure the continued safety of our domestic beef supply.

"It is critically important, now more than ever, that we be assured that USDA and others are doing everything possible to protect us from recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and BSE," he says. Garrison also says passing a country-of-origin meat labeling law would help to address this issue.

Garrison was one of a handful of farmers and ranchers invited to the private meeting with Bush during his Monday visit to Montana. The groups also addressed other industry concerns; including drought impacts on agriculture, the energy crisis, international trade and the importance of keeping Montana’s number one industry profitable.

"This meeting was the chance of a lifetime to voice our concerns to the leader of the free world," said Garrison.

Bush also says ranchers should feel secure that agriculture will be a part of future trade agreements and that food safety and environmental regulations would be based on sound science. He says he understands that energy costs are driving up the cost of farming and ranching. He noted that he would deal directly with Canada on country-of-origin meat labeling.

Meanwhile, Columbus, MT-based R-CALF-USA (United Stockgrowers of America) has issued a formal request to Bush, calling for his support of an immediate moratorium of all animal, cut products and animal by-products until specific protocol is adopted and implemented by the USDA to update safeguards against global animal disease conveyance.

"R-CALF is concerned about what appears to be a relaxed response by USDA to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in South America. It is unclear to U.S. cattle producers why the U.S. put a ban on animal and animal by-products from the European Union and not South America," wrote Leo McDonnell, R-CALF president, in a letter to Bush.

The president came to Montana to discuss his tax package that is making its way through Congress. Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus is the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, the committee responsible for drafting the nation’s tax laws.