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CU urges USDA to halt import of Canadian cattle

November 16, 2007

Consumers Union Urges USDA to Halt Import of Older Canadian Cattle
U.S. to Open Borders on November 19 to Cattle with Highest Risk for Mad Cow Disease

Yonkers, N.Y.—Consumers Union said today that the USDA is putting both meat safety at risk and weakening the ability of U.S. beef producers to sell their beef abroad, by its decision to open the Canadian border to older Canadian cattle and beef products.
Beginning Monday, November 19, USDA will allow Canadian cattle born after 1999—cows up to 8 years old—to enter the U.S., where they can be slaughtered and sold to Americans for steak and beef burgers. Previously, USDA only allowed much younger cattle—those up to 2.5 years old—to enter the country. Older cattle are believed to be at higher risk for carrying mad cow disease. Because implementation of country of origin labeling (COOL) has been delayed by Congress numerous times, it will not go into effect for beef until September 2008, at the earliest. As a result, consumers will not know if they are buying Canadian beef.
“Canada claims that all cattle born after 1999 are safe, as its new feed rules became effective at that time. But no less than five cases of mad cow disease have been detected in Canadian cattle born after 1999,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist for Food Safety for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Moreover these cattle have been detected in a relatively small test program that tests only about one percent of slaughtered or dead Canadian cattle. How many more are there that are escaping detection?”
If an infected animal does come across the border, it is very unlikely that the extremely small U.S. testing program, which tests just a tenth of a percent of beef that die or are slaughtered, would detect it. Besides going into the food supply, a cow’s remains (like that of most slaughtered cattle) would be rendered and converted into pet food and feed for pigs and chickens. Because the remains of slaughtered pigs and chickens can be fed back to cattle, it is possible that the infectious agent could find its way into U.S. born cattle in the future.
“Allowing these cows to enter into the U.S. food system is a foolhardy course,” Hansen said. “According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of mad cow disease is 30 times higher in Canadian than in U.S. cattle. USDA’s plan to reopen the border to cows born after March 1999 puts both consumers and the livestock industry at risk.”
In March 2007, Consumers Union submitted comments and a petition from over 17,000 concerned citizens to the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The petition asked the USDA to close the border to all cattle and beef from Canada until the USDA tests all cows over 20 months of age. Since 2006, six Canadian cows tested positive for mad cow disease.

Michael Hansen, 917.774.3801-cell