R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) has expressed disappointment that the USDA did not aggressively seek a more favorable disease risk classification for the U.S. cattle industry from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

According to media reports, USDA is well-satisfied with the OIE decision to lump the United States and Canada into the same risk category for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), classifying both countries as a controlled risk for the disease.

“The question of whether the United States at least meets OIE’s controlled risk category for BSE has never been disputed,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, in a May 22 press release. “The real question is why didn’t USDA seek the more favorable category of a BSE negligible risk country? Under a negligible risk, the most favorable designation of the OIE, a country cannot have had a BSE case born in the previous 11 years.

“The younger of the two BSE cases detected in the United States was determined to be 10 years old, and this was more than a year ago. Therefore, as of today, the youngest case detected in the United States was born more than 11 years ago, meeting the standard for a BSE negligible risk country.

“The problem with lumping the United States into the same category as Canada is that the rest of the world knows that Canada has an inherently higher risk for BSE than the United States, so the United States has basically sold itself short.

“Canada has had six cases of BSE born after its feed ban, the youngest being born in 2002,” said Bullard. “This suggests that Canada’s feed ban has not been effective in halting the spread of the disease. There is no evidence — despite the United States having tested hundreds of thousands more cattle than has Canada — to suggest that the U.S. feed ban was not effective in preventing the spread of the disease here in the United States.

“Even with limited available data due to insufficient testing of Canadian cattle, USDA estimates that the BSE prevalence in Canada is 6.8 times greater than in the United States.

“Evidence shows that Canada has had several generations of the disease expressed within its herd, based on the five-year average incubation period for the disease. There is no evidence of multiple generations of the disease in the United States. The two native-born U.S. cases detected in the United States both were over 10 years of age, and both were determined to be atypical — a different strain than was discovered in Europe and Canada.

“It is unfortunate that USDA continues to insist that the U.S. cattle industry should be viewed as a North American cattle industry, and that the beef produced from foreign cattle should be undifferentiated from beef produced in the USA,” said Bullard. “As a result, the U.S. cattle industry is not able to distinguish itself as having a much lower risk for BSE than its competitors, and the reputation of the U.S. cattle industry is effectively and improperly tied to the disease problems of our competitors.

“It is also disconcerting that USDA, while asserting that other countries should comply with OIE guidelines, does not itself follow the guidelines with respect to Canada.

“For example, the OIE recommends that specified risk materials (SRMs) from a controlled risk country should not be used for animal food or fertilizer. However, USDA imposes no restrictions on SRMs from Canadian cattle, and these high-risk tissues are available for non-ruminant animal feed and fertilizer here in the United States.

“Moreover, the proposed rule to allow older Canadian cattle into the United States (OTM Rule/Rule 2) does not propose to close this loophole. Therefore, in our view, USDA’s proposed OTM Rule does not comply with OIE guidelines.

“USDA has a long history of trying to pick and choose among OIE standards in order to prematurely relax U.S. import standards against countries affected by BSE. For example, when OIE required an eight-year, effectively enforced feed ban, USDA argued that a five-year feed ban in Canada was good enough. At that point, USDA made it clear that countries are not bound by OIE standards, that OIE standards are simply guidelines.

“This OIE designation has no effect on the question of whether older Canadian cattle, and beef products from such older cattle, are safe to enter the United States under the relaxed conditions proposed by USDA’s OTM rule. This proposed rule remains deficient because it does not address the fact that empirical evidence shows BSE-contaminated tissues continued to enter the Canadian feed system many years after Canada implemented its feed ban.”

R-CALF USA is a national, non-profit organization and is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on both domestic and international trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA has more than 60 affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.