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Thursday, March 3, 2005

Washington, D.C. – The American Meat Institute (AMI) today expressed its strong disagreement with purported facts included in an opinion issued yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull in the case of R-CALF v. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. In that case, Judge Cebull granted R-CALF a preliminary injunction blocking a USDA rule slated to go into effect March 7 that would permit the import of Canadian beef products and cattle under 30 months of age.

“We believe USDA’s decision to reopen the border was deliberative and science-based, so far as it went,” said AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp. “In contrast to the characterization in yesterday’s ruling, there has been no ‘rush’ to reopen the border. As we approach the nearly two year mark since the border closed, it is clear that USDA has relied upon extensive analysis by internal and external experts, including the report of an international review team that has analyzed Canada’s BSE prevention and control strategies. Far from ‘rushing’ to reopen the border, if USDA erred it was by not reopening the border completely enough, leaving it closed to imports that are perfectly safe, like animals thirty months of age or over.”

“It is regrettable that the court has accepted as fact some of the assertions included in R-CALF’s pleadings. We believe that when many of these claims are subjected to full scrutiny, they will ultimately prove wrong,” Dopp said.

“The conclusion that U.S. beef will be stigmatized if Canadian beef is imported is ironic. The primary group creating this stigma is R-CALF itself. Canadian and U.S. consumer confidence in our beef supply is at record high levels. By attacking Canadian beef, which is produced in a way that is almost identical to U.S. beef, R-CALF is attacking its own product and stands to threaten consumer confidence on both sides of the border. As I’ve said before, calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin sister ugly.”

In particular, Dopp took issue with the following points:

USDA’s Use of Qualitative Risk Analysis – USDA relied upon qualitative rather than quantitative risk analysis of the risk that BSE poses to public health because quantitative risk assessments are not possible when risks are so minimal, as they are with BSE. Dopp noted that compared to the five cases of BSE identified in Canada over the past two years, more than 180,000 cases of BSE have been diagnosed in United Kingdom cattle and millions likely occurred in UK cattle that were destroyed without testing. Still, despite massive exposure in the UK to the prion – exposure that has not occurred in the U.S. or in Canada – approximately 150 cases of vCJD have been diagnosed and public health experts continually lower their projections for future cases citing risk that is constantly being reduced thanks to effective public health measures.

“While quantitative risk analysis may be appropriate in analyzing the public health risk of the common cold, it is not appropriate in analyzing the risks posed by one of the rarest human diseases,” Dopp said. “That is why USDA has appropriately used a qualitative approach.”

Canada’s Minimal Risk Status – One need only read Office of International Epizootics Guidelines to see that, based upon the tiny number of cases detected in Canadian cattle; Canada clearly belongs in the minimal risk category. Canada would have to at least triple the number of BSE cases it has detected in order for that risk status to change.

USDA’s Commitment to the Public Health – In contrast to R-CALF’s irresponsible and unfounded allegations about USDA’s commitment to the public health, international experts have said that USDA’s response exceeds international guidelines.

USDA’s intention in reopening the border to Canadian beef and cattle was to bring U.S. regulations in line with international standards – a goal that all nations should embrace and one that will ultimately benefit the U.S. should we ever diagnose a case in an animal of domestic origin. Indeed, OIE guidelines say that imports of cattle and beef should be permitted even from high risk countries so long as the proper animal and public health measures are in place. In an affidavit dated January 18 and provided in a legal action brought by AMI, David Wilson, head of the international trade department at the OIE, said “You will note that it is not recommended that a ban be placed on the import of cattle, even if the BSE status of the exporting country is high.”

Duration of Canada’s Feeding Restrictions – R-CALF claims, and the judge accepts the notion that Canada must have had a ban on the feeding of ruminant protein to ruminants for at least eight years. According to Dopp, Canada’s restrictions have been in place for more than seven years, which, under OIE guidelines, is acceptable in combination with other risk mitigation strategies. “OIE never intended for the eight-year time frame to be viewed in isolation, but rather in combination with other factors,” Dopp said.

Bovine Blood – In contrast to R-CALF’s claims, science does not support the claim that bovine blood is a vector for BSE transmission to cattle.

Specified Risk Material (SRM) Removal – SRM removal is accepted worldwide as the primary means to protect the public health. SRM removal is done effectively in both the U.S. and Canada. The BSE agent also has never been detected in beef. These two facts together protect the public health and are among the chief reasons why no case of vCJD has ever been linked to the consumption of beef from North America.

Mandatory Testing of Cattle – The opinion also accepts R-CALF’s contention that USDA did not give full consideration to testing Canadian cattle. However, USDA considered this issue and rejected it because testing live cattle is scientifically flawed. BSE can only be diagnosed in cattle approximately six months prior to clinical onset. The average age of clinical onset is now approximately 60 months – twice the age of the cattle that would enter the U.S. under the rule. Indeed, one leading expert has called testing young cattle “veterinary malpractice.”

Environmental Impact – R-CALF’s claims that USDA has not fully considered the environmental impact are absurd. USDA’s most current estimates indicate that approximately 1.3 million Canadian cattle might enter the U.S. over the course of the year should the rule go forward (not 2-3 million, as referenced in the opinion). This number is consistent with previous import levels, meaning that the environmental impact of trucks moving through the U.S. is about what it was before the ban went into effect.

Economic Impact on Small Entities – USDA conducted an economic impact analysis, but under the Animal and Plant Health Act, USDA may not consider this impact in conducting rulemaking. This fact is in sharp contrast to R-CALF’s claims.

“An irony in this case is that R-CALF considers only its own short-term economic gains. Long-term, R-CALF's strategy will backfire as Canada expands its slaughter capacity, grows its own beef production and processing capacity and becomes a competitor to the U.S. rather than a partner in what was a highly successfully, integrated North American beef industry,” Dopp said. “If this unfortunate scenario becomes a reality, R-CALF has only itself to blame.”

Dopp said he eagerly awaits a ruling in AMI’s separate legal action, initiated December 30, 2004, in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. That action challenged the continued enforcement of USDA’s ban on imports of Canadian cattle 30 months of age and older. He said AMI’s case is a separate and very different case based upon distinctly different issues.


For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. VP, Public Affairs

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