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The CBC reports that US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns told a University of Minnesota conference last week that the two years during which the US border has been closed to Canadian cattle because of fears about bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE], also known as
mad cow disease, have hurt the American meat industry.

"The simple truth is that every day that the border remains closed, the industry continues to restructure," Johanns said. "Every day, we move further down the path toward permanent job losses as packers and processors close down plants impacted by unsustainable losses."

Johanns called for the border to be opened as soon as possible. “We have confirmed that Canada's safeguards are effective and Canadian beef is safe," Johanns said. "This is not guesswork and it's not politics. It's science."

Not everyone agrees, of course. The border was scheduled to be opened last March, but a federal judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the opening, pending the results of a trial that is slated to begin on July 27.

That injunction was sought by a lobbying group of American ranchers, who say they remain concerned about the possibility that their herds could be infected with mad cow disease by Canadian cattle.

It all is ironic – especially since, as the CBC also reports, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is looking into another possible case of mad cow disease on US soil. While the beef cow is said not to have entered the food chain, USDA officials say that tests are being performed to see if the cow was BSE-infected.

The Wall Street Journal reported that USDA’s Johanns conceded that “a brain sample from a crippled beef cow the department had declared free of the fatal brain-wasting disease in November had just generated a ‘weak positive’ in a more-sensitive test.” However, he said that while new tests were being done, the fact that the cow was identified is proof of the efficacy of the system.

However, critics say that the US isn’t doing enough testing and record-keeping to make sure that mad cow doesn’t spread; they say that proof of this is the fact that the USDA doesn’t know if the cow currently under suspicion was imported or was native to the US.
KC's View:
Of course, it can be argued that the ranchers want the border to remain closed because they like the fact that no Canadian cattle means higher prices for US cattle.

And, it can be argued that the Bush administration wants the border opened because it wants Japan to open its border to US beef, and it is hard to make that case while it isn’t accepting Canadian beef.

Frankly, we believe both of these arguments. Which doesn’t give us a lot of confidence in either the ranchers or the US government.

We read a blog over the weekend written by MSNBC’s HardBall correspondent David Schuster about the subject of mad cow disease, in which he wrote:

    “The irony is that if the Department of Agriculture really cared about the U.S. meat industry, the department would add a little pain now to prevent the industry from being decimated down the road when an outbreak occurs and nobody wants to buy U.S. meat. But once again, it’s all about short-term profits and paying back your political contributors. And consumers are left holding the bag... or in this case, mourning the deaths of loved ones who could die suddenly from the human form of BSE.

    “Did I mention that American scientists are tracking a mysterious spike in the U.S. of the human form of BSE, known as Creutzfeldt Jakob disease?”

Beyond the fact that we agree with him, the larger concern is that this story and its implications may be about to get a lot more attention.

The industry has to make sure that it is on the right side of this issue and this story.