R-CALF USA, along with 10 other plaintiffs, has filed a complaint against the USDA in the District Court – District of South Dakota, Northern Division (District Court) in an effort to prevent the agency decision from opening the Canadian border to imports of live cattle born after March 1, 1999, and beef products from cattle over 30 months of age. USDA’s decision, often referred to as the OTM (over 30 month) Rule, is scheduled to take effect Nov. 19. Eleven cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have been detected in Canadian-born cattle, seven since the beginning of last year.

Individual plaintiffs include South Dakota cattle producers Herman Schumacher, Robert Mack, Ernie Mertz, and Wayne Nelson. Plaintiff organizations include: the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association; the Center for Food Safety; the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation; Food & Water Watch; Public Citizen, which has 90,000 members; and, the Consumer Federation of America, with 50 million members.

“The OTM rule creates an unjustified and unnecessary increased risk of infection of the U.S. cattle herd with BSE, and of importing beef contaminated with BSE into the U.S., which will expose U.S. consumers to increased risk of a fatal disease,” said R-CALFUSA CEO Bill Bullard. “By USDA’s own analysis, it is a virtual certainty that the OTM Rule will result in the importation of Canadian cattle infected with BSE, the meat from which will enter the U.S. food supply, and that the OTM Rule also will result in the importation of billions of pounds of meat from OTM cattle slaughtered in Canada, which almost certainly include products from cattle infected with BSE. There also lies the possibility of contamination of U.S. cattle feed caused from the use of Canadian cattle products, like blood, in the manufacturing of cattle feed.

“The OTM Rule will expose U.S. cattle producers to severe economic hardship because of the reduced marketability of U.S. beef as a result of commingling domestic product with potentially contaminated beef of Canadian origin,” he continued. “We have export customers who refuse to accept beef from the United States unless it is segregated from Canadian product. R-CALF does not believe opening the Canadian border to older cattle and all beef products will increase our export markets. These all are risks that R-CALF finds unacceptable. Unfortunately, USDA seems all too willing to put the interests of a few big multinational companies ahead of the much larger concerns of the country's beef consumers and the 800,000 independent cattle producers in the United States.”

“It’s hard to fathom why the USDA would move to eliminate a critical protection against BSE at a time when the public is increasingly concerned about the safety of imported foods,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America.

“The decision to allow risky older cattle from Canada to enter the U.S. shows once again that the USDA is more concerned about facilitating trade than protecting consumers’ health,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Until the U.S. strengthens the rules for preventing the spread of BSE when cattle are slaughtered, we have no business importing older cattle from a country where the disease is prevalent.”

“Consumers expect the government to protect the food supply from the risk of BSE, but instead USDA has taken an illegal step that creates a new food import health risk,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety.

BSE is an unusual disease that requires an unusually vigilant response. If cattle in the U.S. become infected, there is no drug that can keep them from dying, and there is no vaccine that can keep them from getting infected.  The same is true for the human version, which is believed to come from consuming infected meat.

The stakes are enormous: The 2003 discovery of a single case of BSE in a cow imported into the U.S. from Canada virtually shut down the U.S. beef export market, which is still trying to recover, costing the industry (and the U.S. balance of trade) billions of dollars. 

“USDA is downplaying the risk of BSE, and this is one of those situations where a low probability of a very bad consequence is not acceptable,” Bullard concluded. “If BSE is introduced into the U.S. herd, there is no test that can find all the infected animals and no medication that can stop its spread. Hoping that the problem will go away without demonstrable evidence that it will is folly, and knowingly importing infected cattle and meat when scientists agree we do not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the spread of the disease is unjustifiable.”

Source: R-CALF news release