Iowa Public Television


"Permit Creep" Hits USDA

posted on February 18, 2005

On March 7, the U.S. plans to reopen its border to imports of Canadian cattle that are less than 30 months of age. That decision has triggered a hailstorm of objection both inside and outside the U.S. beef industry. In fact, in the two weeks before the border is reopened, there will be a House Agriculture Committee hearing, a proposed Senate resolution of disapproval, and two court hearings on the issue.

Critics say allowing Canadian cattle into the U.S. would rattle consumer confidence in the safety of the beef supply. And they point to an internal USDA audit issued this week as evidence that the systematic handling of Canadian meat imports is in doubt.

In what is being called "permit creep", USDA officials reported there were several violations of their own rules. In a report issued this week, the USDA inspector general found thousands of pounds of "questionable" products entered the United States from Canada in August of 2003. According to the report, last April, 42 thousand pounds of meat, potentially infected with Mad Cow disease, and an additional 63 thousand pounds of prohibited meat were allowed into the US.

All imports of beef from Canada were stopped in May of 2003 when a single case of Mad Cow was discovered in Alberta. Four months later, the ban was eased to allow boneless beef from animals less than 30 months old into the country. It also was revealed that during the same time period, agriculture officials were allowing products to be imported from plants processing meat with a higher risk of carrying Mad Cow disease. This was happening despite statements to the contrary.

Among those items were cheek meat, a product banned from importation, and tongues, which were considered to be high-risk items. Cattle tongue eventually was downgraded by USDA officials to low-risk. But 60 thousand pounds of the banned cheek meat came across the border.

The revelation had Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund CEO Bill Bullard repeating his call to keep the Canadian border closed. R-CALF was responsible for getting the injunction to stop importation of high-risk meat products early last year.

For their part, USDA officials have stated that problems cited in the report have been, or are being, fixed.

Tags: agriculture animals Canada livestock Mad Cow meat news trade USDA