USDA lifts ban on imported Canadian beef

Local rancher thinks cattle producers could see decreased profits

The United States Department of Agriculture lifted a ban on importing beef from Canada last week.

Rancher Lee Williamson figures the end of the ban could lower the price that cattlemen are receiving for beef. Calf prices were at an all-time high this fall.

But he's not sure whether the drop in prices will carry over to the supermarket and consumer.

He likens it to when hog prices were low several years ago. Although he could buy hogs cheaply, he never saw the price of pork chops drop at the supermarket.

Nor is Williamson concerned about the competition.

"I think the demand is pretty high for beef and if it doesn't come from Canada it'll come from some place else," he said.

The USDA had banned importing beef from Canada when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was found in cattle there.

But the USDA lifted the ban after developing guidelines for importing beef from regions of Canada with what the department describes as effective prevention measures.

"We are committed to ensuring that our regulatory approach keeps pace with the body of scientific knowledge about BSE," Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said in a statement.

"After conducting an extensive review, we are confident that imports of certain commodities from regions of minimal risk can occur with virtually no risk to human or animal health. Our approach is consistent with guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, and relies on appropriate, science- based risk mitigation measures."

Just days after the USDA lifted the ban, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that a dairy cow from Alberta, Canada, had tested positive for mad cow disease.

CFIA said the discovery didn't endanger Americans who eat beef.

"Beef imports that have already undergone Canadian inspection are also subject to re-inspection at ports of entry by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure only eligible products are imported," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator with the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.

Williamson said he expected some of the safeguards other countries use to track mad cow disease, such as tags or microchips, to be implemented in this country.

Cattle carry the tags or microchips until slaughter, and if the animal tests positive for mad cow disease, the authorities can trace every ranch or feedlot that housed the animal.

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