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USDA OKAY MAD COW BEEF IMPORTS

 

 

 

By Jon Christian Ryter

January 18, 2005

NewsWithViews.com

In a plan that smacks of nothing more the bad faith international politicking with little regard for the consequences to the American consumer, the US Department of Agriculture [USDA] decided to proceed with a plan approved last month by the Bush White House to renew the importation of beef from Canada after the discovery of a single case of Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE] in 2003 ended the cross-border importation of beef. Since the first case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered, the sale of livestock between Canadian and northwestern ranchers and/or the importation of beef for slaughter was halted. The Canadian government under former prime Minister Jean Chretien (whose aide, you recall, called Bush-43 a moron), insisted that the one case of Mad Cow Disease was an anomaly that simply did not justify a boycott of all Canadian meat products. Canada lobbied the US State Department, the Bush White House, the USDA—and the World Trade Organization. Canada complained that the American boycott of Canadian beef violated the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] and wanted the European Union to retaliate against the United States. Relations between Bush and Chretien, which were never good in the first place, went downhill from there.

When Paul Martin won the national elections and became the new Canadian Prime Minister in 2004, President George W. Bush decided to patch up relations with our northern neighbor. On Nov. 30, 2004, the recently re-elected Bush met with the recently elected Martin in Ottowa to talk about trade, the war in Iraq, the Iraqi elections, and other issues that were important to the two nations— including a decision by Bush to slap a tariff on Canadian softwood lumber since that industry is subsidized by the Canadian government. For their momentous State dinner they ate steak from a steer from Alberta. Martin took the first bite to show the President that he was confident that Alberta beef did not have Mad Cow Disease.

A Hill staffer told me his boss believes that it was during that dinner that Bush made a "non-official pledge" to lift the ban on Canadian beef as soon as it was politically expedient to do so. Two Democratic lawmakers have challenged the decision of the USDA to allow the importation of Canadian beef after the latest two cases of Mad Cow Disease turned up, and they are demanding hearings to understand why, when additional cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy have turned up, that the USDA did not rescind its agreement to allow Canadian beef into the United States. I think the Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate is convinced it will find Bush's fingerprints on this one so they can embarrass the president, force Bush to re-establish the Canadian beef embargo, thereby causing Bush to lose face with Martin and make it impossible for Bush to enlist the Canadian Prime Minister's support in Iraq.

The first case of Mad Cow Disease that triggered the ban, as noted, occurred in a dairy cow in Alberta in 2003. The second case was recently discovered in a 7-year old beef cow with no known connection with the first one. The latest "find" was in a cow that was 6 years, 9 months old. The disease was not discovered until after the animal was slaughtered.

The two latest "finds" were in beef cows rather than dairy cows. In addition to the three Canadian cows slaughtered for Mom's Sunday pot roast or your next burger, an infected dairy cow was found in Washington State shortly after the first Canadian case of Mad Cow Disease turned up in Alberta. An investigation of the history of that animal revealed that it had been born and purchased in Canada. But despite the latest two cases, the USDA has not backed down from its position, stating as recently as Tuesday of this week that cross-border trade in live beef cattle will resume.

On Monday, Jan. 10, 2004 the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund filed suit in federal court to block the proposed reopening of the border for the importation of Canadian beef. "This rule," said Leo McDonnell, Jr., president of the legal fund, "will expose US consumers to increased risk of a fatal disease associated with BSE-contaminated meat, and will increase the risk of BSE infection in US cattle. Additionally, it will expose US cattle producers to severe economic hardship."

James Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute's research and education foundation disagreed with McDonnell's assessment, stating that "...[t]he US should move forward with its decision to import live Canadian cattle and meat products, because the firewalls to ensure BSE prevention and food safety are intact. BSE-infected cattle have been detected in Canada, and might be detected in the US, because our BSE-detection programs work." Standing in the firing zone for the USDA is W. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who agrees with Hodges. "We remain confident that the animal and public health measures that Canada has in place to prevent BSE, combined with existing US domestic safeguards provide the utmost protection to American consumers and livestock. The result of our investigation and analysis will be used to evaluate appropriate next steps."

DeHaven and the USDA wouldn't need to plan for "appropriate next steps" if the ban on Canadian beef remains intact. However, the decision to begin the reimportation of Canadian beef was a political decision. It was not initiated by the USDA based on fact-finding that confirms that Canadian beef poses no risk for American consumers. The decision emanated from the Bush White House specifically to mend relations with Canada and to build a rapport with the Paul Martin government that Bush lacked with Chretien. George W. Bush has been the least popular American president with the Canadian people in a hundred years. While Bush has indicated to the media several times that he doesn't really care about popularity if he gets the job done right, he's enough of a politician to know that when half the population of a country is carrying placards denouncing him as a murderer or as an idiot, he will not get any serious cooperation from that country's elected officials who need the votes of the placard-carrying constituents to remain in office.

Bush was smart enough to know that if he did not change his image with the Canadian people his relationship with Paul Martin would not be much better than his relationship with Chretien—whose lieutenant in the Canadian parliament inadvertently left his microphone on after addressing the Canadian legislature when he made the offhand remark—on the air—that Bush was a bastard.

When Bush arrived in Ottowa on November 30 to meet with Martin, he was greeted by several hundred protesters who, although they were "politely English," their placards invited him to go back where he came from. Other less polite placards labeled him as an assassin, while others using profanity to tell Bush where he should go. Clearly, Bush's purpose in going to Canada was to repair public relations with the Canadian people not to justify mend international fences with the country's leadership. On December 1, Bush went to Halifax and spoke directly to the Canadian people indicating, once again, that his real mission to Canada was to sell them—not the leadership in Parliament. Canadian politicians who want to get reelected are as guided by polls as American politicians who want to get reelected. Bush, who is a genuine first rate horse trader, knew it would not be enough simply to give lip service to the Canadians by promising better days ahead. He needed to give the Canadians something. He gave them access to the supermarkets of America for Canadian beef.

But that was just one of the two thorny issues between Bush and Martin. The other is the tariff on imported Canadian pine, spruce and other softwood lumber that is, and always has been, subsidized by the Canadian government. I'm willing to bet that Bush will trade that one for Canadian military support in Iraq—but it will have to be more than just the election observers that Martin agreed to send as a quid pro quo for the removal of the ban on Canadian beef. I think to get the tariff removed from Canadian lumber, Martin is going to have to send real troops—with loaded guns—to Iraq. And that would be a major coup for the Bush Administration since Canada has stood, shoulder to shoulder with France and Germany on the Iraqi issue. The only question is, has Martin banked enough political capital to sell that one to the Canadian Parliament?

© 2005 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights Reserved

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Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.

Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website. E-Mail: BAFFauthor@aol.com


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When Paul Martin won the national elections and became the new Canadian Prime Minister in 2004, President George W. Bush decided to patch up relations with our northern neighbor.