AR-News: U.S. quietly OKs imports of banned Canada beef
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Thu May 20 14:39:04 EDT 2004
U.S. quietly OKs imports of banned Canada beef
Thursday, May 20, 2004
Washington -- The Agriculture Department allowed American meatpackers to resume imports of ground and other processed beef from Canada last September, just weeks after it publicly reaffirmed its ban on importing those products because mad cow disease had been found in Canadian cattle.
In the next six months, a total of 33 million pounds of Canadian processed beef flowed to American consumers under a series of undisclosed permits the USDA issued to the meatpackers, permits that remained in effect until a federal judge intervened in April.
The imports were allowed despite the August 2003 announcement by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman that she was extending an earlier ban on many types of Canadian beef.
Ever since the USDA briefly halted all imports of Canadian beef in May 2003 after the mad cow discovery, the USDA has been under great pressure from Canada and from large American meatpackers with plants across the border to loosen the restrictions, which hurt profits in both countries.
In her August announcement allowing importation of boneless beef to resume, Veneman said the risk that ground beef might contain mad cow infection was too great to allow it in. She and her top deputies said ground beef imports would resume only after the agency completed a formal process, with public debate.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, however, processed beef began re-entering the United States from Canada the next month, and 33 million pounds were imported over the next six months. USDA spokeswoman Andrea McNally said that although the border was officially closed to those beef products, the agency made exceptions when it "concluded that certain products would not pose a health risk because of risk mitigations" taken by meat processors. Although the risk to humans from eating infected beef is considered extremely low, the human form of the brain-destroying disease is fatal and incurable. According to McNally, importation of Canadian processed beef was halted again late last month. That decision was triggered by a ruling by a federal judge in Montana that the USDA had, on April 19, improperly allowed an expansion of Canadian beef imports. The court ruling came in a lawsuit by the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, a group of cattle producers opposed to wide imports.
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