A current injunction banning the import of Canadian cattle and beef is crucial to protecting U.S. cattle producers and consumers from the threat of mad cow disease, according to the head of a livestock trade organization.
Bill Bullard, the keynote speaker at the Nevada Livestock Association's annual meeting in Fallon, said his organization continues to fight the USDA over the resumption of Canadian beef imports.
He estimated that U.S. cattle producers would take a $2.5 to $3 billion hit in the first year if Canadian beef and live cattle imports, stopped in 2003 because of the mad cow disease scare, were to resume.
The organization Bullard heads, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF), filed a lawsuit in January against the USDA's plans to open the border to Canadian cattle. The group argues the USDA doesn't have the science to back its contention that Canadian cattle are safe from mad cow disease.
The USDA claims safeguards are in place, Bullard said, "yet they have failed to show the science." Canada tested only 23,500 animals for mad cow disease last year out of more than 5 million animals, a percentage that is inadequate, he said.
Bullard said the Canadian imports represent 8-9 percent of U.S. beef supplies and keeping the border closed has driven up cattle prices in the U.S. by as much as 15 to 20 percent.
"As a result of that (the import ban) we are seeing historically high cattle prices," he said. "That's had a significant impact on the sustainability of these higher prices. There's no question about it."
Bullard, whose organization represents 1,300 members in 45 states, said cattle prices prior to 2003 were depressed for a decade. Since 1998, however, there has been a steady increase in consumer demand for beef. Consumer confidence that U.S. beef is free of mad cow disease is also on the rise.
"This is an opportunity for this industry to heal from the prolonged period of depressed prices."
Bullard said there is strong political pressure to open the U.S. border to cattle imports from Canada, but he thinks the organization's legal efforts against the USDA will prevail. Surprisingly, he said national cattle organizations don't support the litigation R-CALF is pursuing to keep the ban on Canadian cattle in place.