The U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing to fight a U.S. cattle group's legal efforts to halt a U.S. plan to open its borders to Canadian cattle, USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said Wednesday, according to a Dow Jones report.



Loyd said USDA wants to make sure its lawyers are present when the R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America seeks a preliminary court injunction to stop USDA's plan to allow in Canadian cattle by March 7.



R-CALF on Jan. 10 filed a federal lawsuit to stop USDA from lifting its ban on Canadian cattle. But R-CALF spokeswoman Shae Dodson told Dow Jones Newswires late Wednesday that the group is uncertain whether it will file for a preliminary injunction.



Yet USDA Secretary Mike Johanns told reporters this week: "Our lawyers are working with their lawyers on a joint scheduling order for this motion. Our objective is to get the motion briefed and argued on a mutually acceptable timetable so the judge will have the benefit of hearing everyone's point of view before reaching his decision."



But American Meat Institute Foundation President James Hodges said Wednesday that with the possibility of R-CALF stopping USDA, "we are faced with the untenable situation where one individual judge will have precipitated a permanent restructuring of the North American beef industry."



Hodges said that unless the U.S. eventually lifts its ban on Canadian cattle, U.S. processing plants would have to move north of the border or shut down.



House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told reporters Wednesday he thinks it is "in the best interest of American agriculture, American consumers and most especially our beef industry to have open borders," but also stressed that the USDA is right to be concerned about the two latest BSE discoveries in Canada.



USDA sent a group officials to Canada earlier this week to investigate the circumstances surrounding the two new BSE cases there. If USDA "finds something out of the ordinary in Canada" during its investigation, then USDA may be forced to make some "adjustments" to its plan to lift the ban, Goodlatte said. But he also noted that many of the U.S. lawmakers opposed to allowing in Canadian cattle are mainly concerned about the financial effect it will have on ranchers in their states.