updated 7/15/2005 3:11:17 PM ET 2005-07-15T19:11:17

Canadian ranchers were elated Friday by news that their cattle will begin moving across the U.S. border again, but they said it will take years to recoup the billions of dollars lost to the scare over mad cow disease.

Washington banned the import of Canadian cattle in May 2003 after a cow from Alberta was found to have the disease, which can be fatal in humans.

The embargo between the world’s largest trading partners has devastated ranching communities and provoked cries of protectionism.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would reopen the border within days to Canadian cattle younger than 30 months old after a U.S. federal appeals court Thursday overturned the ban on cows.

Paperwork is the only obstacle at this point, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
“Our hope is that we’re talking about days and not weeks,” Johanns told reporters by telephone from Madagascar, where he is on a trade mission.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, which represents about 90,000 beef producers, estimates the embargo cost ranchers more than $5.7 billion.

“Obviously, people are elated right now,” said Denis Laycraft, executive vice president of the CCA in Calgary, the cattle ranching capital of western Alberta province. “But we still have work in front of us to be prepared and deal with the final court battle.”

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a ruling from a Montana judge, who blocked the USDA from reopening the border in March.

“We’ve lost a decade in two years here, and the actual erosion will take quite some time to build up to prior what we were in 2003,” said CCA President Stan Eby.

“This is good news not just for Canadian cattle producers, but for those sectors of the U.S. beef industry that have been economically devastated by the disruption in trade.”

The ban also cost American meat packers about $1.7 billion in revenue, with some packing houses forced to close down or scale back because fewer cows were being processed, according to the U.S. National Meat Association.

Americans — the top consumers of Canadian beef — were paying $1.85 a pound for ground beef before the border closed. They pay about $2.55 today.

Jim Laws, Canadian Meat Council director, said he hoped the ruling meant Canada would soon “resume some more normalized trade with the United States.”

Still uncertain, though, is what will happen with a trial scheduled to start July 27 in U.S. District Court in Billings, Mont. That trial had been aimed at giving a hearing to the Montana-based Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, which claims Canadian beef poses a hazard to U.S. stock and American consumers.

“(The) USDA did not provide significant justification for overturning a long-standing policy that protected both the U.S. cattle herd and U.S. consumers from the introduction of BSE,” said Bill Bullard, executive director of R-CALF, adding he hoped the trial would proceed.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. People who eat meat tainted with BSE can contract a degenerative, fatal brain disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. More than 150 people died from it following a 1986 outbreak in the United Kingdom.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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