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CU hails decision to postpone reopening of Canadian border

Consumers Union hails decision to postpone reopening of Canadian border to beef imports

WASHINGTON, DC. – Consumers Union is applauding a federal judge’s decision today to postpone the reopening of the border on March 7 to Canadian cattle, saying there are too many unanswered questions which at this time could unnecessarily place our nation’s public health at risk.
As recently as January 11, Canadian officials announced that they found a new case of mad cow disease, the third confirmed case in that country and the first involving a cow born after Canada’s feed ban went into effect.
“The fact that Canada has found three cases of mad cow disease to the United States one – and that one appears to have been born in Canada — suggests that Canada may have a greater problem,” said Jean Halloran, director of CU’s Consumer Policy Institute and spokesperson for the www.NotinMyFood.org campaign.
The injunction against the reopening of the border was sought by R-CALF USA, a group of cattle farmers and ranchers, and granted by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Montana.
Halloran added that U.S. also has important issues to settle before it can guarantee the safety of its beef to its own citizens. “There is so little testing in either country–the U.S. currently tests less than one percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered every year–that we cannot be sure of the situation on either side of the border,” Halloran said.
“At this time, it is prudent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep the border closed, given how little we really know about the problem in either country,” said Michael Hansen, a biologist with Consumers Union and spokesperson for its www.NotinMyFood.org campaign. “Given the uncertainties as to risks involved in the opening, it is doubly disappointing that Congress caved in to meat industry pressure last year and delayed implementation of country of origin labeling for meat to 2006.”
“Consumers would like to know where their steaks are coming from, so they can make their own decisions about whether they want to eat Canadian beef,” Halloran added. “We have labels on canned food, clothing and even automobiles telling us where they were made. Consumers deserve the same information on meat.”
Consumers Union also has concerns as to the effectiveness of the U.S. mad cow surveillance program. CU sent a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns last week pointing out that USDA is not using the most sensitive and up-to-date testing methods that are used in Europe and Japan. CU urged USDA to retest a suspect cow it identified last November, using one of these more sensitive tests, known as the “Western blot” Although that cow tested positive on a screening test, USDA said that its confirmatory testing came out negative.
“In the interests of insuring the confidence of both American consumers and our trading partners in the USDA surveillance program, we urge USDA to retest the November suspect cow using the Western blot test,” Halloran said.
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Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Michael Hansen
(914) 378-2452 or
Jean Halloran,
(914) 378-2457