updated 7/20/2005 4:57:05 PM ET 2005-07-20T20:57:05

A federal judge on Wednesday postponed a trial on whether Canadian cattle should be allowed to enter the United States. Shipments resumed on Monday.

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U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings, Mont., canceled arguments scheduled for July 27 on the lawsuit by Western ranchers against the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Cebull had granted a preliminary injunction to ranchers who had sued to keep the border closed to Canadian cattle, saying it presented a risk to the U.S. beef industry as well as to American consumers.

However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his injunction Thursday, allowing cattle shipments from Canada to resume. The first truckload entered the United States on Monday.

The three-judge panel issued a brief order but has not yet issued an opinion explaining why it rebuffed Cebull.

"After receipt of the court of appeals' opinion, this court will determine whether further hearings are necessary," Cebull wrote in an order Wednesday.

The United States banned Canadian cattle in May 2003 following Canada's first case of mad cow disease. Since then, authorities have found two cases in Canada and two in the United States. One of the U.S. cows was Canadian-born, the other was from Texas.

The U.S. was about to lift the ban in March when Cebull granted the injunction to the plaintiff, a ranchers' group called R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America.

Bill Bullard, the group's chief executive officer, said Wednesday that R-CALF "is prepared to present its case to the court soon after that opinion is issued."

The lifting of the ban reopens the United States to cattle younger than 30 months and expands the list of beef products Canada is allowed to ship to the U.S. Older animals are still banned, because infection levels are believed to increase with age.

Mad cow disease, the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a fatal brain-wasting ailment. In humans, eating tainted meat has been linked to about 150 deaths from a fatal brain disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Most of the deaths were in the United Kingdom, where there was an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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