Only 13% of 1,485 respondents to last week's BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly survey of reader attitudes on Canada trade believe the U.S. should allow Canadian live cattle to cross the border on March 7, as USDA proposes. Of respondents, 51.9% say the border should be kept closed indefinitely, while 34.3% say reopening of the border to Canada should be tied to the resumption of U.S. beef exports.

A USDA rule published in the Jan. 4 Federal Register calls for resumption of trade with Canada of live cattle less than 30 months of age, and whole-muscle beef products from cattle more than 30 months of age. The U.S. shut its border to Canadian beef and cattle trade in May 2003 following the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Alberta. Imports of whole-muscle products derived from Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age were re-instituted in September 2003.

The best 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.

It was on the basis of that science, and international protocols instituted by Canada, that the U.S. opened its border to Canadian whole-muscle cuts in September 2003. Next up was USDA's plan for opening the border to Canadian live cattle.

That announcement came Jan. 2, the same day Canada announced discovery of another BSE-infected cow. What was already a hot issue really erupted Jan. 11 when Canada announced it had discovered 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.

Respondents to the BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly survey say their top concern (73.2%) with USDA's proposed rule to open the Canadian border to live cattle less than 30 months of age is the "economic impact on U.S. cattle producers resulting from resuming trade with Canada without having reopened other export markets, specifically Japan." Meanwhile, 62.3% say the prevalence of BSE in Canada since the announcements on Jan. 2 and 11 is a top concern. In addition, 55.4% cite the compliance of Canada's beef industry with its feed ban, and 42.8% say the overall implications of importing meat from Canadian cattle older than 30 months of age is a top concern.

Interestingly, 82.4% of respondents agreed 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. Still, 86% say USDA should not allow the importation of meat from Canadian beef animals more than 30 months of age when live cattle more than 30 months of age are not allowed to be imported into the U.S. And, 69.7% believe that, even though it may violate World Trade Organization rules, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) should insist that trade be reestablished with Japan and South Korea, and expanded in Mexico, before the U.S. border is reopened to Canadian cattle.

Other survey points include:

  • 95.6% of respondents say that USDA should demand Canadian government officials provide a detailed assessment of the country's ruminant feed ban compliance.
  • 68.6% say total harmonization of bluetongue and anaplasmosis requirements should be a condition to reopening the U.S. border to the Canadian cattle trade.
  • 70.2% attribute recent production cutback announcements by big packers -- Tyson, Swift and National Beef -- as being a tactic to pressure USDA into maintaining its March 7 timetable to reopen the Canadian border. Meanwhile 15.4% see it as the precursor to some permanent plant closures based on overcapacity in the meat packing sector, and 10.6% believe the cutbacks are due to economic conditions caused by flattening demand and bad weather.
  • Of respondents, 90.6% report they have cattle operations located in the U.S., while 6% say they are not directly involved in beef production. Another 2% say their cattle operation is not in the U.S.
  • In answer to the question, "If USDA and NCBA are satisfied that science indicates trade can be safely resumed with Canada, do you believe the nation's cow herd and the American consumer are safe with the Canadian supply?" a total of 59.5% of respondents say "no," while 39% say "yes."
To view results of the BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly study, presented as overall responses and by organization affiliation, click here. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, free download.