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U.S. politicians push to block “Rule 2” for cattle

In what some observers call a long-shot measure to stop older Canadian cattle from being exported to the U.S., lawmakers have launched “resolutions of disapproval” in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

U.S. agriculture officials on Sept. 18 published what Canadian cattle organizations have called “Rule 2,” to take effect Nov. 19, allowing imports of live Canadian cattle born after March 1, 1999.

The new rule also admits beef from Canadian cattle of any age, as long as they were subject to Canada’s ban on feeding of ruminant tissue to other ruminants and have had their SRMs (specified risk materials, the tissues known to harbor the proteins that cause mad cow disease or BSE) removed at slaughter.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat well known for backing initiatives expected to restrict Canadian cattle, such as country-of-origin labeling, will co-sponsor a resolution in the Senate.

He said the Bush administration, which backs the open border, “based its decision to allow these imports to resume on overly optimistic assumptions regarding the scope of Canada’s mad cow problem and the effectiveness of Canada’s efforts to control, prevent and eradicate it.”

Dorgan, in a release Thursday, added that “the administration’s decision will also erode the confidence of our trading partners in the safety of our beef supply, which could have a devastating impact on our ranchers, farmers and processors.”

Thirty senators must back Dorgan’s bill for it to get on the Senate’s calendar for consideration, he noted. If successful, the resolution could lead to the reversal of Rule 2, he said.

Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican representative, co-sponsored a similar resolution in the House. “This rule is the result of USDA’s overzealous attempt at free trade with our neighbors to the north,” he said Thursday in a release.

“Though I support trade, this proposal goes too far.  I’ll oppose any idea that puts the livelihood of Montana ranchers at risk.”

He added that “the discovery of eleven cases of BSE in native Canadian cattle poses a severe threat to that quality and makes it clear that Canada has not taken the necessary steps to protect its herd from the spread of BSE.”

Canada has had 10 cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) since May 2003, when the U.S. and other importers first shut their gates to Canadian cattle and beef. (An 11th case found by U.S. officials in Washington state in December 2003 was traced back to a Canadian herd.)

Citing the risk as negligible, the U.S. reopened to boneless beef imports from younger cattle in September 2003, then to live Canadian cattle under age 30 months in July 2005.

John Masswohl, director of international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, was quoted Saturday by the Canadian Press news agency as saying the lawmakers’ measures are a “long shot” but noted they should be taken seriously.

“We’ll work with people in the middle and hope (the resolutions) don’t get enough votes,” Masswohl told CP. U.S. President George Bush could also veto the resolutions.

Dorgan’s release cited his co-sponsors as including two senators each from Wyoming and South Dakota, fellow North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown and Montana Democrat John Tester. South Dakota Democrat Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is named as co-sponsoring Rehberg’s resolution.

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