Beef producers want ban reinstated

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Benny Montague has raised cattle in West Texas for 35 years and believes he knows what's best for the nation's beef industry.

With this weekend's confirmed case of mad cow disease in Canada, Montague and others in the nation's leading beef-producing state said the government is acting too hastily in lifting a ban on importing live cattle from the country. The ban -- lifted last week -- has been in place since the first confirmed case of the disease in Canada was found in May 2003.

"We don't need any more mad cows over here," Montague said. "I think it's crazy since they found one to open it back up."

Not everyone agreed with Montague, however.

"The bottom line is that the beef supply is safe," said Jan Lyons, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

She said the animal, an older dairy cow, posed no health threat because of procedures in place to keep potentially infected cows out of the food chain.

Canada's Food Inspection Agency suspects the cow became infected through contaminated animal feed. The cow was born in 1996, before a 1997 ban on certain types of feed, the agency said. It did not enter the human food or animal feed supply and posed no risk to the public, the agency said.

The rules on beef imports stipulate that imported cows must be under 30 months of age.

Concerns about mad cow have been heightened since the May 2003 discovery in Canada. The United States closed the border with Canada following that case, but has slowly been easing the restrictions, including last week's lifting of the ban on live cattle under 30 months old.

The Bush administration said it would stand by the decision. But Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says he has written Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman saying she should immediately suspend the rule.

This country's first confirmed mad cow case, in Washington state in December 2003, turned out to be a Canadian-born Holstein. It prompted several countries, Japan being the largest, to ban U.S. beef.

Gene Harris, owner of a small ranch in Killdeer, N.D., said the United States should import beef from countries that have taken adequate steps to ensure human and herd safety.

"In the short term it will have some negative effects to the market, but in the long term, re-establishing trade will allow us to establish a framework to trade with Canada and other minimal-risk countries," he said.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, attacks an animal's nervous system. Food contaminated with BSE can afflict people with usually fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: