U.S. Must First Get Its House in Order to Expand Beef Exports

US - After months of see-sawing with the United States on U.S. beef exports, South Korea announced yet again that it would ban products from a major U.S. meatpacker.
calendar icon 21 June 2007
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“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) still isn’t taking appropriate steps to restore the global competitiveness of the U.S. cattle industry,” said R-CALF USA Trade Committee Chair Eric Nelson. “Today, total U.S. beef exports remain well below 2003 volumes.

“Rather than allow the U.S. to capitalize on the fact that U.S. cattle are produced under the strictest production standards, the agency sought and obtained a BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) risk classification from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) that puts the U.S. on par with Canada, a country with a heightened BSE problem,” Nelson pointed out. “And now, with its proposed rule to allow the importation of Canadian cattle over 30 months (OTM) of age, the agency is trying to further integrate the U.S. cattle herd with the Canadian herd.”

Nelson said these recent actions by USDA do nothing to further the interests of the U.S. cattle industry. He explained that R-CALF USA consistently has encouraged USDA to take steps that would strengthen U.S. import controls for Canada and other countries with ongoing animal disease problems such as BSE, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Instead of heeding R-CALF USA’s advice – and with encouragement from the beef-processing industry – USDA moved swiftly to dismantle its long-standing BSE import controls soon after BSE was detected in Canada on May 20, 2003. After USDA’s initial relaxation in 2003, which was found to be unlawful when R-CALF USA filed and received an injunction against the agency in early 2004, the United States detected BSE within its borders in December 2003 in an imported Canadian cow. The world reacted immediately, with more than 50 export markets closing their borders to U.S. beef.

“USDA believed that world markets would follow the United States’ lead and reopen if the U.S. were to demonstrate that it was unconcerned with Canada’s BSE problem by continuing to import both live cattle and beef from Canada,” Nelson said. “This policy has not been successful at restoring our markets. In fact, this grand experiment by USDA is a colossal failure.

“Even before the U.S. detected its first ‘atypical’ case of BSE in a Texas cow in mid-2005, our export markets largely remained closed,” he continued. “Now, after more than three years of insisting that all is well with Canadian beef and cattle, U.S. beef export volumes remain at less than half their 2003 levels.” (See note.)

In 2003, South Korea and Japan first informed USDA of their concerns regarding the commingling of Canadian cattle and beef in the United States. In mid-2004, Japan expressed its concern that the United States’ feed ban, BSE testing program, and specified risk material (SRM) removal policies all were inferior to their respective mitigation programs, which they believed were effective at controlling their BSE epidemic.

Today, three years later, the U.S. continues its practice of commingling Canadian cattle and beef in the United States, while Canada has a weaker feed ban, less inclusive testing programs, and less stringent SRM removal policies than any other country, including Japan, the European Union, and Great Britain, all of which are working to control their respective BSE problems.

“The fact that we’ve not restored confidence to our lost export markets should not be a surprise,” Nelson noted. “USDA’s insistence that it is doing enough to mitigate Canada’s BSE problem when it actually is doing less than the rest of the world has severely damaged the agency’s credibility, resulting in ongoing financial harm to U.S. cattle producers.

“The USDA is simply not listening to the legitimate concerns raised by South Korea and other countries – concerns that have been repeatedly expressed by R-CALF USA,” Nelson asserted. “We would not be in this situation today if USDA would have strengthened our BSE mitigation measures in accordance with the requests made by both U.S. cattle producers and beef export customers.

“USDA’s resistance to restoring reasonable BSE import restrictions, implementing country-of-origin labeling (COOL), allowing voluntary BSE testing, and strengthening the U.S. feed ban – all of which would improve our ability to restore lost export markets – makes me question what the agency’s actual agenda is concerning restoration of lost export markets,” Nelson concluded.

Source: Food Consumer

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