Charging that continuing to enforce a ban on importing older cattle is “arbitrary and capricious,” the American Meat Institute (AMI) today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court saying there is no legal or scientific justification for continuing to ban Canadian cattle 30 months of age and older.
The filing came a day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) posted for display at the Federal Register a new rule affecting beef and cattle imports. The ban on Canadian cattle and beef dates back to May 2003, when Canada diagnosed a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alberta cow.
In its pleadings, AMI said that USDA continues to ban the importation of Canadian cattle 30 months and older and that this is “scientifically insupportable and is therefore arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law, in violation of the Administration Procedure Act.” The Institute made clear that it is not challenging the rule announced yesterday, but is seeking an injunction against enforcement of the original May 2003 ban.
Under international trade guidelines set by the Office of International Epizootics (OIE), Canada’s response to the May 2003 BSE case and the system it established long before to ensure cattle health and the ability to identify and trace livestock, are more than adequate to justify full trade in cattle and beef products with Canada regardless of an animal’s age.
In his opening statement at a press conference held today at AMI’s Washington, DC, offices, Mark Dopp, the Institute's senior vice president for regulatory affairs and general counsel, said that there is no scientific justification for the ban and that a “partial” trade reopening announced yesterday does not address the concerns detailed in the lawsuit.
Dopp shared the following scenario: “Once upon a time there were two calves in Flaxton, North Dakota – Bossie and Bessie. Then Farmer John sold Bessie to Farmer Jacques in Oxbow, Saskatchewan,” Dopp said. “Under the rule that USDA has just published, when Farmer Jacques seeks to sell Bessie, now 31 months old, to a packer in North Dakota, he won’t be allowed to do so. Instead, he’ll send her to a packer in Moose Jaw, who can ship the beef back to the retail grocer in Flaxton, North Dakota.”
According to AMI, the May 2003 border closing has caused Canada to expand its slaughtering capacity by building new plants and adding shifts to existing plants. Meanwhile, many U.S. packers have been hit hard economically by short cattle supplies and high prices for lean beef and cows. And ultimately, the consumer has paid the price in the form of higher prices for beef and products made with beef.
Dopp noted that some cattle producers in the Northern Tier states support maintaining a ban on all beef and cattle trade with Canada. “Those who hold this view are taking a narrow-minded, short-term approach to what will become a long-term problem if fundamental economic restructuring continues in the Canadian packing industry,” Dopp said. “Instead of behaving like the Hatfields and McCoys, which seems to be what some groups prefer, we need to behave like the integrated North American meat industry that we have become.”
The complaint noted that under OIE guidelines, Canadian cattle born after the implementation of the Canada’s feed ban in 1997 – rather than the much more restrictive under-30-month limit set in the final rule – could be imported into the United States.
Dopp also called “utterly irresponsible and unscientific” attempts to justify this partial ban with claims that Canadian beef and cattle are somehow “less safe” than U.S. beef and cattle. “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Calling Canadian beef unsafe is like calling your twin sister ugly,” Dopp said. “The U.S. and Canada both have implemented state-of-the-art, meat inspection and animal disease prevention systems. As we look across the borders, we see near mirror images of one another.”
American Meat Institute, Drovers