Hoping to ease tensions over the soaring U.S. trade deficit with China, Beijing agreed earlier this month to resume imports of U.S. beef. The ban was imposed after a Washington state cow tested positive for mad cow disease in 2003. Japan, which also closed its borders to U.S. beef for nearly two years, lifted the ban last winter. Last January, though, Japan reinstated the ban after its inspectors found spinal cords in a small shipment of frozen beef from New York. This week, the Japanese government confirmed the nation's 25th domestic case of mad cow disease. While Japan refuses to lift its ban on U.S beef, USDA is continuing its support of Canadian beef imports, despite the fact that Canada recently confirmed its fifth case of BSE.
With the confirmation of Canada's fifth case of BSE – or mad cow disease – last weekend, the Agriculture Department said it will send an animal health expert to Canada. USDA said the neighbor to the north invited the U.S. to participate in the epidemiologic investigation into the BSE death of a six year old dairy cow in British Columbia.
Chuck Strahl, Canada Minister of Agriculture: "What we've tried to be in Canada is not just open about this but very, very transparent. They, as well as other folks from around the world will be invited to make sure, watch us, make sure – but I think they will be very satisfied, with our science-based approach."
The most recent BSE case in British Columbia is similar to the January case in Alberta. Both animals were born after a 1997 ban on feed containing ground-up cattle parts, which scientists believe spreads the disease.
Last July, the U.S. reopened its border to allow Canada to ship cattle under 30 months of age. USDA announced this week its timetable to allow older cattle from Canada to enter the U.S. may be delayed due to the new cases of BSE.
Mike Johanns, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture:
"I'd hate to set a date, but what I did indicated to Minister Strahl, we here at USDA are committed to the subsequent rule. I want to make sure it will withstand not only our rigorous internal challenge but the challenge that can sometimes come from court cases. Those happen around here. It's not unusual."
The cattle interest group R-CALF has filed an injunction in the past to prevent younger cattle from Canada being shipped into the U.S. The injunction was eventually overturned. This week, R-CALF called for the border to be closed. The R-CALF president issued a statement calling for "... the closure of the Canadian border until the full scope of the problem can be scientifically qualified, and until Canada has successfully controlled its disease outbreak ..."
While age of an animal has played a key role in mad cow disease investigations, age is not a piece of information to be included in USDA's idea for a livestock tracking system tentatively scheduled to be implemented in 2009. Animal ID would strictly be a unique, assigned 15-digit number for each animal. The number would be entered in a database along with the premise, or location, of the animal each time it is moved through the livestock system. If and when a disease is discovered, the database would be able to trace back the steps of the animal to locate other animals with which it had contact.