Late Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court's ruling banning imports of Canadian cattle. USDA had planned to reopen the border March 7, but a lawsuit filed by R-CALF and preliminary injunction issued by a Montana judge kept the Canadian border closed to live cattle trade of animals under 30 months of age. USDA then filed an appeal.

Thursday’s ruling issued by the appeals court said that after considering arguments in the case, it determined that the preliminary injunction must be reversed. "The court hereby stays the preliminary injunction order, effective immediately, pending the final resolution of this appeal," the ruling said. A longer opinion setting forth its reasoning will be issued soon.

The ruling means that imports of some Canadian cattle could start soon as USDA is already implementing the steps to resume imports. 

"USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is already in contact with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to prepare to certify cattle for shipment,” said Ag Secretary Mike Johanns.  “We have been safely importing boneless boxed beef from Canada since September 2003, and now we will use the scientific approach laid-out in our minimal risk rule to once again safely import live Canadian cattle for processing.

"This is great news for the future of the U.S. beef industry, specifically the many ranchers, feeders, and processing plants that have been struggling to make ends meet due to the closed border.  It also bolsters our position with other international trading partners by following the very advice we have given them to base trade decisions on sound science."

Many agriculture groups applauded the ruling. Jim McAdams, Texas cattle producer and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said he is pleased that the 9th Circuit Court agreed with the science: beef is safe from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). “U.S. cattlemen are best served when international trade is based on science and we expect our trading partners to follow the science that BSE does not pose a public health or food safety risk.”

R-CALF, which initially filed the injunction, said it was disappointed by the ruling but could take no action until the court issued a full opinion giving its reasons for the ruling. The group said it still believes that USDA "did not provide significant justification for overturning a long-standing policy that protected both the U.S. cattle herd and U.S. consumers from the introduction of BSE," R-CALF Chief Executive Bill Bullard said in a statement.

"R-CALF is confident that when we have a full hearing on the merits of the case, we will demonstrate to the district court that USDA's actions are premature and unjustified."

The final hearing of R-CALF's initial lawsuit to overturn USDA's plan to allow the Canadian imports will be held in Montana in July 27. If that judge rules in favor of R-CALF for a second time, the border could be closed again.