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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cantwell: Keep Canadian cattle out of U.S.

Rachel La Corte Associated Press

OLYMPIA – U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell on Friday asked the Bush administration to delay reopening the border to Canadian cattle until inspectors are certain that mad cow disease in that country is under control.

Cantwell’s request comes in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement by Canadian authorities confirming another case of the deadly brain-wasting disease. That’s the second animal found to have mad cow since U.S. officials announced last month they would resume the cattle trade with Canada in March.

Canadian officials said no part of the cow – the third case of the disease ever found in the country – has entered the human or animal feed system.

“While I realize the economic hardships suffered by the Canadian beef industry since its first discovery of BSE, our primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of our nation’s beef supply,” Cantwell, D-Wash., wrote in her letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said earlier this week they were sending a team to Canada to evaluate the latest mad cow case before deciding whether to change their plan to resume imports.

A message left after-hours with USDA in Washington, D.C., was not returned Friday.

When Canada reported a case of mad cow disease in May 2003, the United States banned Canadian cattle, beef and beef products. Restrictions were later eased to allow imports considered at very low risk of the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The closing has cost the Canadian beef industry at least $3 billion. On Dec. 29, the Bush administration announced it will allow imports from Canada of cattle younger than 30 months and certain other animals and products.

A group of U.S. cattlemen has sued to block the lifting of the ban, arguing that allowing the trade will hurt U.S. producers and put consumers at risk. Food contaminated with BSE can afflict humans with a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is usually fatal.

Cantwell said she wasn’t opposed to lifting the ban but wanted to make sure that inspectors allow adequate time to do “a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the problems in Canada,” even if that means pushing back the March 7 date for reopening the border.

The latest case was discovered in an animal younger than 7 years old, meaning the cow likely was born after a 1997 feed ban in Canada removed the use of animal remains in feed, commonly believed to be the cause of the disease.

Cantwell said this case “raises serious questions regarding the compliance of the feed regulations in Canada and the reliability of Canada for restoring and enforcing mad cow firewalls.”

Dr. Brian Evans, of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said earlier this week that the cow was most likely exposed to feed before the ban came into effect in the fall of 1997 and that his agency was investigating.

In December 2003, a case of mad cow disease was found in Washington state in a cow from Canada. That resulted in a number of other countries closing their borders to U.S. beef.

Cantwell’s office said that as of September 2004, Washington’s beef exports fell 96 percent compared to 2003, resulting in a loss of $260 million.

“The Washington economy and Washington cattle growers have paid the price and penalty for not having this issue resolved in Canada,” she said.

Joining Cantwell on Friday were state agriculture officials, as well as state Sens. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Marilyn Rasmussen, D-Eatonville, both cattle producers.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the state of Washington,” Rasmussen said. “Protecting the integrity of our food supply is paramount.”