October 21, 2003



"Canadian Cattle Re-Moving Into US" Arouse More Doubts Than Confidence


Top agriculture officials on both sides of the US-Canada border are dismissing a news report that live Canadian cattle could be moving into the United States by December. This timeline might be a bit too optimistic.


"I would be very, very surprised," said Gilles Lavoie, director general of Agriculture Canada's marketing services branch.


CBC Newsworld reported Monday that the American border was poised to accept cattle under the age of 30 months, citing the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. That would end a ban on live animals imposed after mad cow disease was detected in an Alberta cow last May.


Canadian officials have been expecting a proposed rule change outlining what it will take to get live Canadian cattle into the U.S. Mr. Lavoie said once the proposal is made public, there will be a minimum of 30 days for involved parties to give opinions.


"We don't know the length of the consultation period and then they will have to take time to study and produce a final set of rules," Mr. Lavoie said from Ottawa. "To say all of that can be done with 30 days?"


Federal Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief spoke with his American counterpart on Monday and received no assurances that Canadian cattle will be allowed into the U.S. by year-end.


Mr. Vanclief said Ann Veneman told him nothing new about when the process for accepting cattle exports would be complete. Mr. Vanclief noted that process usually takes up to 18 months.


Julie Quick, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it's too soon to say if the rule change is coming this week. She added that it's the USDA that will issue the regulation, not another government department.


"Once we issue the proposed rules then there will be a comment period that can range from 30 to 90 days," Quick said from Washington.


"We expect to go through a very thoughful and deliberative process as we read through those comments and then work to prepare a final rule, which we would then issue before any live cattle could actually come across."


Cindy McCreath of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association doubts any exports will move until the first quarter of 2004. She says this speculation could be hard on financially tapped producers who are grasping at good news.


"It gets people's hopes way up and then of course they get dashed because it's not a process that's going to happen overnight," Ms. McCreath said.


Alberta agriculture minister Shirley McClellan was cautious about the report.


"We're hopeful, but until I see it in black and white that's as far as I want to go," she said. Talks on getting the border reopened to live cattle have continued since the U.S. first lifted its ban on some cuts of boneless Canadian beef this summer. The first shipments went out in September.


Canada's cattle industry was shattered by the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, in a northern Alberta black Angus breeder cow. More than 30 countries closed their borders to Canadian beef May 20.


The crisis has cost Canadian exporters alone more than $1-billion in lost revenue.
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