There was more positive news out of Washington this week as the economic recovery gains steam.
*American employers added a sizable 262,000 jobs to their payrolls in February -- the most in four months. *Worker productivity, a key component for rising living standards, rose solidly in the last three months of 2004. *And construction spending increased by a strong margin in January, thanks to continued low mortgage rates.
The economic news in farm country, meanwhile, was NOT focused on fundamentals but on legal matters. Beef producers, in particular, have been witness to a spirited legal battle over the proposed re-opening of the U.S. border to Canadian live cattle imports.
Those imports were scheduled to resume on Monday ... but from Montana to Washington D.C. this week, the voices of opposition were heard.
Those standing against the rule have begun to grow in number. Earlier this week, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review the measure. The witness list included representatives from USDA, including Secretary Mike Johanns; the NCBA, and R-CALF.
Chuck Kiker, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund: "Now that USDA proposed final rule increases the risk that consumer confidence in our beef will jeopardized."
Jim McAdams, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: "Upon the announcement of this rule, it was followed shortly thereafter by the discovery that two additional cases of B-S-E in Canada. And this increased the concern among our nation's cattlemen."
Mike Johanns, Secretary of Agriculture: "We remain very confident that the minimal risk rule, with the risk mitigation requirements, and the animal and public health that the U.S. and Canada have in place provides the utmost protection to consumers and livestock."
High-plains legislators also have joined the ranks of those following R-CALF's path. Democratic North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad gathered enough votes to pass a bi-partisan measure to reverse the rule. The House is contemplating a like resolution. President Bush has stated he will veto the measure if it makes it to his desk.
Canadian trade officials joined Johanns in expressing disappointment over the decision by the Montana District Court. The closed border has cost Canadian producers an estimated 5.6 billion dollars.
Those supporting the rule are continuing to stick with the same lines of reasoning as before.
-The rule is based on sound scientific principles. -And the food system has sufficient safeguards to protect both the reputation of the US beef industry and the public.
The USDA is planning to appeal the court's decision but no timetable has been given. Both sides have ten days to prepare their cases.