By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
CHINOOK - When it was all over, when the auctioneer's rolling voice was silent and the hands of buyers no longer went up to signal a bid, local stockgrowers, business people and their families had raised $27,061 in support of R-CALF USA's fight to keep the Canadian border closed to live cattle imports.
Friday's sale was held at Bear Paw Livestock in Chinook and was sponsored by the North Central Montana Stockgrowers Association. Animals donated by local stockgrowers were sold along with products and services donated by area businesses.
"It's amazing to see the support you guys have given this industry," Chase Carter said afterward. Carter is a field coordinator for R-CALF, which stands for Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America.
R-CALF is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its Jan. 7 ruling to reopen the border to imports of live Canadian cattle under 30 months of age on March 7. The group is concerned that the Canadian industry has not proven its feed supplements are in compliance with safety measures meant to curtail the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
Restrictions on Canadian cattle and beef parts were imposed in May 2003 after that country reported its first case of mad cow disease. Two more cases were reported this month in Alberta, Canada. The lone U.S. case, confirmed in December 2003 in a cow born in Alberta, caused some countries to stop importing U.S. beef.
USDA wants to open the border to live, young cattle and an expanded list of beef parts, including from older cattle. Now, only boneless beef from younger animals is allowed. Younger animals are considered less risky because they were born after 1997, when both Canada and the United States banned grinding up cattle parts for cattle feed
The money raised at Friday's sale will be added to the total of about $150,000 brought in by fund-raisers in Great Falls, Billings and Lewistown.
Carter told the crowd that 2004 was "an unprecedented time" for the industry and that USDA's decision could have a dire effect.
"Our cattlemen are not against Canadian cattle producers," Carter said. "We are for American producers."
NCMSA vice president Leon LaSalle said the industry's concerns over the USDA decision are twofold: safety and economics.
"We're confident that we don't want their cattle mixing with ours," he said. "The last cow (with BSE) was definitely born after Canada banned using animal products in their feed."
The U.S. cattle industry enjoyed record-high market prices in 2004.
"We're not ready to give that up without a fight," LaSalle said. "The American cattle industry had our export markets taken away. If the Canadians are allowed to bring their cattle in here, it will increase the supply. Our question to the USDA is why open the border to Canadian cattle when we can't export our own? Our stance is that until the USDA can negotiate some other markets," it shouldn't be opening the borders to imports.
LaSalle added that USDA's decision affects not only stockgrowers, but everyone in the community.
"Everybody we've talked to is concerned, even when you talk to business people or people out on the street," he said. "They should be as concerned as the rest of us."
The first animal put up for bid was sold to Bob Sizemore, of Western Bank in Chinook, for $1,400. He promptly donated it back to be sold again, a practice that was repeated often throughout the hour-long sale. He came to "support the livestock industry," he said. Many in the cattle industry are second- and third-generation growers and "grow quality cattle at a reasonable price," Sizemore said. "We want the market to stay strong."
Duane and Linda Tangen of Harlem donated two animals to the sale and gave R-CALF a $100 cash donation.
"We're here to keep the border closed," Duane said.
"We believe in the cause," Linda said.
Local residents who attended the sale said they wanted to support R-CALF in its efforts to protect the industry.
"I would encourage anyone to support R-CALF any way they can," said Larry Kinsella of Havre. "It's our future."
"Keep the Canadian border closed," said Ted Powell of Chinook. "I'm for keeping it closed until we get more information on it. Once it's open, there's nothing we can do about it. It's like dumping water out of a bucket. Once it's gone, you can't get it back."
"I really think we need to support R-CALF because they're the ones that have stood up to the U.S. government," said Joe Brummer of Chinook. "Opening the Canadian border to live cattle is 100 percent wrong at this time. It's a proven fact that the safety factor is not there. If it was safe, then the Japanese would be taking our cattle.
"I guess the big question is how we're going to open our export markets. It's a balance of trade. You can't import when the export doors are closed. I feel R-CALF has done more for ranchers in the last 10 years than the other organizations have done in the last 30."
The NCMSA was formed in 1976 and has about 140 members. The organization covers Hill, Blaine and Liberty counties along with parts of Chouteau County. It was created to promote and safeguard the local cattle industry, a mission that was apparent in Friday's sale, LaSalle said.
"This is what our group was formed for, to go out and stand up for our industry," he said.