Canadian mayor urges opening of border to cattle


A Canadian mayor is asking Montanans to support opening the border to Canadian cattle again.

"It's been just devastating to our industry," Don Weisbeck, mayor of Brooks, Alberta, said in an interview in Havre Monday, adding that unless the border is reopened soon, Alberta faces its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

U.S. officials say they can't say when the ban on Canadian cattle will be lifted.

The United States, and other countries banned the importation of Canadian beef after Canada on May 20 released information that a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease, was discovered in a cow in Alberta. The United States banned importation of all ruminants - cud-chewing animals - and ruminant products, including feed that contains ruminant products, from Canada.

Weisbeck said the ban on Canadian cattle has dropped their sale price to a quarter of what it was or less. Feeder steers have dropped from 80 cents U.S. a pound to 20 cents a pound, and dry cows have dropped from 45 cents a pound to 5 cents a pound, he said.

But the big problem is yet to come, when the calves born this year are ready to go to market but there's no place to send them, he said.

Canada has about 10 million head of cattle, half of which are in Alberta, Weisbeck said.

Julie Quick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said USDA can't say when the border will be reopened.

"We don't have a timeline," she said. "We're really kind of seeing what Canada does."

Weisbeck said the investigation of Canada's case of mad cow disease is complete. The government traced the cow's movement through different herds in Canada. Every herd the cow had been in has been tested, with 2,800 head of cattle slaughtered and tested with no new cases found, he said.

Weisbeck said he traveled through Montana a couple of weeks ago seeking support for reopening the border. Montanans gave him a great reception, but the farther south he traveled, he discovered that many Montanans were unfamiliar with the situation.

He returned to Montana to continue to raise support and awareness, Weisbeck said.

Ralph Peck, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, said the members of the Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture were united about the situation at their annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., last weekend.

"We have to follow the proper protocol in animal health before the border is opened. We cannot risk losing exports," he said. "Canada has a lot of work to do to develop a protocol to allow them to have access to our market."

Japan has said it will not allow U.S. beef to enter the country if the U.S.-Canadian border is reopened unless the United States can clearly trace where the cattle came from, Peck said.

Quick said the United States is working with Japan, the single largest importer of U.S. beef, and other international trading partners about what they would require to import U.S. beef if the Canadian ban is lifted.

"We're seeing what our options are, what we would have to do to meet their requirements," Quick said.

Weisbeck said the Canadian government has already proven that the country's cattle are safe.

"For us, it's become more than a safety or health issue. It's become a trade issue," he said.

Peck also said lifting the ban could also cause problems for U.S. producers if Canadian beef floods the market. He said Shirley McClellan, Alberta's agriculture minister, told him the Canadian government is aware of that risk and will try to avoid flooding the market if the ban is lifted.

The ban is also limiting access of U.S. producers to Canadian markets, Peck said. Some producers winter their cattle at Canadian feedlots, then bring them back to the United States for the summer. The ban on bringing cattle from Canada to the United States prohibits that, Peck said.

Mad cow disease has never been discovered in the United States. The U.S. government routinely bans the import of meat and livestock from countries where the disease is found.

Scientists believe the brain-wasting disease, first found in Britain in 1986, is spread through feed made with protein and bone meal from infected cattle. They believe that people develop a fatal disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, when they eat meat from infected cattle.

The only previously known case of the disease in North America was discovered in Canada in 1993, involving a cow born in Britain.

Both the United States and Canada have banned importing Japanese beef since the Japanese government reported finding a case of mad cow disease on Sept. 10, 2001. A case discovered on Jan. 19 was the sixth confirmed case in Japan.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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