The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is seeking answers from the Department of Agriculture to a number of outstanding questions regarding BSE and trade issues.  In a letter sent today to Secretary Mike Johanns, NCBA says a number of issues must be addressed in order for the cattle industry to move forward in efforts to protect and enhance the business climate for U.S. cattlemen and to further increase the demand for beef in the United States. These issues include:

1.      Protocol for announcing BSE test results

2.      Future of USDA’s enhanced BSE surveillance program

3.      Attaining OIE’s “Provisionally Free” status for the U.S.

4.      Canada’s anaplasmosis and bluetongue restrictions

5.      Resuming trade of imports vs. exports

6.      USDA grade stamps on imports

7.      Animal identification

Specifically, NCBA asked for:

1.      Clarification on USDA protocol for release and management of information associated with inconclusive test results for BSE.

NCBA members previously expressed concern with the Department’s protocol in November 2004 when speculation surrounding an inconclusive test result caused unnecessary volatility in the market.

2.      USDA’s plan of action for the enhanced BSE surveillance program.

Since its June 2004 inception date, USDA has completed surveillance on 314,394 head of cattle under the program.  NCBA says the principal goals of the program have now been met and a more reasonable level of testing should be resumed.

3.      Report on USDA’s effort to seek the "provisionally free" status for the U.S.from the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE).

In March of 2005, NCBA requested that in light of the current volume of cattle tested under the enhanced surveillance programs, that USDA seek the "provisionally free" designation for the U.S. This would facilitate the reopening of many of our export markets and enhance consumer confidence in the safety of U.S. beef.

4.      Increased attention be paid to resolving the issue of Canada’s restrictions on U.S.cattle due to anaplasmosis and bluetongue requirements, especially in regards to breeding cattle. 

NCBA says these non science-based trade barriers have existed for more than two decades without resolution, and NCBA asked that USDA “bring the full weight of your office to resolving this issue…and ensure that these rules do not become entangled in political or regulatory rifts on either side of the border.”

5.      Resumption of exports of products and animals from the the department’s first priority.

There is a perception among cattlemen that that USDA is quick to resolve issues raised by other countries yet slow to ensure that U.S. producers have appropriate access to the world marketplace. 

6.      Consideration by USDA of all possible options toward resolution of producer concerns over the use of USDA Grade Stamp on imported meat and animals.

NCBA’s 11-point directive calls for the resolution of a list of conditions before trade with Canada is resumed.  This list includes “USDA grades and stamps not be allowed on any imported beef product.”

While Article 3 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and subsequent agreements prohibit the disallowing of USDA grade stamps on imports, NCBA asks that USDA recommend legislative action or regulatory changes that do not interfere with our international commitments.

7.      In development of a national animal identification system, focus the efforts of USDA staff on allocation of premises identification and allow the industry to provide and manage producers’ animal ID information needed to meet our nation’s animal health requirements.

NCBA continues to be concerned that the department’s desire to develop a national animal identification program fails to consider the use and value of a cooperative working relationship with private industry. NCBA policy prevents us from supporting government-owned and -managed databases for animal movement that have the potential to expose sensitive producer and confidential business information to others.

As a producer-driven organization, NCBA wants to see these issues resolved so that cattlemen will know what the future holds and can better run their businesses accordingly.  NCBA President and Texas cattle producer Jim McAdams says, “In light of the current conditions within the international marketplace and the clear direction provided to us through our member developed policy, we can’t wait anymore for these issues to be addressed.”