Despite the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in four older Canadian cattle, including one discovered in Washington state, there is no public health basis for preventing young Canadian animals from entering the United States, according to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The report says that since Canada has an effective mandatory cattle identification system, it would be much easier to track a Canadian cow from the slaughterhouse back to its farm of origin than it would be to track an American animal. That safeguard is essential, says CSPI, if public health authorities are to prevent cattle contaminated with BSE, E. coli, or other hazards from entering the food or animal feed supply.

CSPI's report comes two weeks after a federal judge issued a temporary order blocking the reopening of the border to Canadian cattle. The ban on importing Canadian animals was scheduled to end on March 8, but a group of American cattle producers sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), citing concerns about food safety. And, on March 3, the United States Senate passed a resolution calling for keeping the border closed. However, a recent USDA audit indicates that the three BSE-positive animals were all more than six years old and probably consumed feed produced before the ban on animal protein in ruminant feed went into full effect. And the Japanese government has indicated that Congressional action barring imports of Canadian cattle could actually further delay the resumption of U.S. exports to Japan.

"American ranchers' alleged health concern about young Canadian cows exposing American consumers to BSE is all sizzle and no steak -- it has nothing to do with human health and everything to do with protecting their profits," DeWaal said.

CSPI's report, Name That Cow, recommends that the U.S. should move quickly to implement a mandatory national system requiring all cattle to bear ear tags or other visible identification indicating the farm of origin and year of birth.

"The question is how much longer USDA will delay implementing mandatory national cattle identification and other common sense reforms," DeWaal said. "That kind of food-dragging is isolating our cattle industry from the rest of the world."

Source: CSPI Release