WASHINGTON – Paperwork is all that prevents truckloads of Canadian cattle from rolling into the United States now that a federal appeals court has lifted a ban related to mad cow disease, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Friday.
Both countries had been anticipating the ruling and may be ready to resume shipments next week, Johanns told reporters in a telephone call.
“Our hope is that we’re talking about days and not weeks,” said Johanns, who was on a trade mission in Madagascar.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously overturned a Montana judge’s decision that had kept the border closed.
The U.S. will reopen the border to cattle younger than 30 months and expand the types of beef products that Canada is allowed to ship. Older animals are banned because infection levels are believed to increase with age.
For trade to resume, the Agriculture Department needs to issue procedures and a list of beef products allowed to cross the border, then make sure that state and federal authorities will use the guidelines to inspect shipments.
“We have been in contact with our counterparts in Canada working through these issues, and we’ll be working through this process immediately and in the days to come,” Johanns said.
The ban was costly for Canadian ranchers, who lost more than $5.7 billion, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association estimated. Although elated by the decision, association president Stan Eby said the ranching industry had been set back 10 years by the embargo.
The United States banned Canadian cattle after Canada discovered its first case of mad cow disease in May 2003. The U.S. was about to reopen the border in March when U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull granted a preliminary injunction at the request of a ranchers group that sued to keep the border closed.
The appeals court is unlikely to allow Cebull to issue another injunction, but beyond that, it’s unclear how the latest ruling will affect the trial, which is scheduled July 27 in Cebull’s court.
It’s up to the ranchers group, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, whether the case continues, Johanns said. “But we will be prepared to be in his courtroom, and we’ll be prepared for the remainder of the case if necessary,” he said.
Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF, said there isn’t much his group can do until it sees the opinion from the appeals court, which issued only a brief order late Thursday.
Johanns assembled industry officials last month in Minnesota to drum up support for reopening the border. There, he said beef prices had risen too high and could make Americans start choosing other red meat.
Retail prices have dropped since then, from a near-record $4.26 a pound to around $4.18 a pound, according to the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. The decline is seasonal and is expected to continue in the coming weeks, analyst Ron Gustafson said Friday.
Canada shipped an estimated 1 million head annually to the United States before the ban, according to the American Meat Institute. The United States slaughters about 35 million head a year.
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