In his first testimony before the House Agriculture Committee, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns again defended USDA's rule that will allow for Canadian beef and cattle imports to begin reentering the U.S. market. On Tuesday the committee held a hearing to review the rule.
House Ag Committee Bob Goodlatte from Virginia in his opening statement says he remains convinced "that if we abandon science as our guiding principle, we will harm the long-term health of our beef and cattle community. Cattle producers, the people who work in our processing plants and retail establishments, and our nation's consumers will benefit the most from a committed course based on science."
Only one House member, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., asked Johanns to prevent the rule from being implemented. Many of his constituents are members of R-CALF USA, a cattle group that is suing the USDA for trying to reopen the border. R-CALF has requested a preliminary injunction with a hearing scheduled for today (March 2).
Chuck Kiker, a cow/calf producer from Beaumont, Texas, and a board member for R-CALF USA, testified before the committee expressing many reasons why the cattle group sees the border reopening as a threat to the U.S. cattle industry and U.S. consumers.
"USDA initially threatened consumer confidence in the beef available in the U.S. market in 2003 when it first began exposing the U.S. market to beef products from a country known to have BSE, but where the severity of the BSE problem was uncertain," Kiker pointed out to the committee. "Today, the BSE problem in Canada is even more questionable, with three additional BSE cases detected after the rule was proposed, and under limited testing.
Kiker says a major flaw in the Final Rule is that USDA asked the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) whether it would accept a relaxation of its standards regarding the duration of the meat-and-bone-meal (MBM) feed ban, but OIE experts rejected USDA, stating, "One of the most important conclusions of the recent OIE expert groups is that the scientific basis used in the present Code is still valid."
OIE has submitted documents to the residing judge for the injunction hearing explaining that OIE guidelines for the feed ban are actually a recommendation. And other measures, for instance removing specified risk materials from animals older than 30 months of age, can have the same effect as a feed ban in place for eight years.
In a statement to the House Agriculture Committee, the American Farm Bureau Federation voiced support for the rule and the use of sound science and international animal health guidance in classifying countries as minimal risk regions. AFBF President Bob Stallman says, "Canada has shown that its BSE-prevention standards are equivalent to our own domestic firewalls." This includes: prohibition of specified risk materials in human food; import restrictions to minimize exposure to BSE; surveillance for BSE at levels that meet or exceed international guidelines; an effectively enforced ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban; and appropriate epidemiological investigations, risk assessment, and risk mitigation as needed.
Chairman Goodlatte closed the hearing by encouraging members and the public to remain vigilant, alert, and committed to sound science as the process continues. "Going forward, my advice to my colleagues and the constituents of this Committee would be to remain rooted in science, with an eye towards the long-term structure and economic health of the beef and cattle industry. The public policy decisions being made now will have far-reaching implications for producers, processors, retailers and consumers and we owe it to them to remain both prudent and thoughtful," says Goodlatte.