Canadian beef producers are celebrating the first good news they've received since late May: some Canadian beef will once again be allowed into the United States.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday it was easing its total ban on Canadian beef which was imposed May 20, almost immediately after one Alberta cow was confirmed to have BSE, otherwise known as Mad Cow disease.
For Canada's beef industry it is a shot in the arm. The beef trade between Canada and the United States was almost $2 billion in 2002. That market has been completely lost since the border was closed more than two months ago. The cost has been estimated at $11 million per day, and 5,000 jobs in Canada.
There will still be restrictions in place, for the time being. Live animals will not be allowed into the U.S. But meat from cattle under 30 months of age, veal from calves under 36 weeks, and fresh or frozen beef liver will now be permitted to cross the border.
Also the U.S. has lifted the ban on importation of hunter-harvested wild ruminant products intended for personal use. The USDA says it will also accept applications for other import permits, including:
- Boneless sheep or goat meat from animals under 12 months of age; - Boneless bovine meat from cattle under 30 months of age - Boneless Veal (meat) from calves that were 36 weeks of age or younger at slaughter - Fresh or frozen bovine liver - Vaccines for veterinary medicine for non-ruminant use and pet products and feed ingredients that contain processed animal protein and tallow of non-ruminant sources when produced in facilities with dedicated manufacturing lines
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman assured American consumers that the partial opening of the border poses no threat. "We have a long history of safeguards in place to prevent the introduction of BSE in the United States, and the continued protection of the U.S. food supply is our top priority," Veneman said in a news release. "Our experts have thoroughly reviewed the scientific evidence and determined that the risk to public health is extremely low."
Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief said "over time, I'm confident that our beef industry will come out stronger. However, there is certainly going to be some stress to individuals and to the overall industry and the economy in the meantime."
Spokespeople for the Alberta and Canadian beef industries were elated to hear the ban was being lifted, even if only partially.
"We've really been successful in breaking the ban," Arno Doerkson, chairman of the Alberta Beef Producers, said. "We've begun to understand the process for resuming trade with the U.S. I think it's an indication of confidence in our system, and the safety of our product.
"I think it's a good start," Ben Thorlakson, president of the Canadian Beef Export Federation, said.
Thorlakson estimates about 50 per cent of the meat processed will now be able to move to the U.S., because the ban is still in place for meat cuts with the bone in them. He says about 84 per cent of all cattle slaughtered in Canada are about 16 months old, making the 30-month limit "a positive thing."But although Canadian meat products will be heading south, probably by the end of the month, the Japanese ban remains in effect.
Japan, which is a key trading partner with the United States, says it will not accept American beef if trade resumes between Canada and the U.S.
Veneman says the impact on the Canadian and American beef industries from the single case of Mad Cow points out the need for "more practical, consistent guidance" when dealing with the disease.