— A federal judge Wednesday blocked the reopening of the U.S. border to cattle and expanded beef imports from Canada because of mad-cow fears.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture had planned to reopen the border on Monday. But after a U.S. livestock group objected, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull granted a temporary order preventing the action.
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, based in Billings, had argued that the USDA plan would pose a risk to both consumers and U.S. cattle producers. The organization asked the judge to block the reopening until its lawsuit is heard.
The group’s attorney, Cliff Edwards, told the judge that it would be “insane” to allow the import of cattle from a country that has already reported two new cases of mad cow disease this year.
“This boils down to plain old common sense,” he said.
An attorney for the government, Lisa Olson, argued that the plan was as safe as it possibly could be and was based on science. “There’s no health risk here,” Olson said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the order is a “procedural delay,” and not a reflection on the substance of the USDA plan.
“We continue to believe that international trade in beef, founded on science-based regulations, should be re-established in an expeditious manner,” he said.
Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson said he was disappointed and “we’ll do everything we can to fight it out.” He said Canada’s cattle-producing processes “have been inspected every which way by the Americans and they’ve been found safe by the American authorities.”
The Canadian cattle industry has been devastated by the U.S. beef ban, with losses amounting to about $5.6 billion.
When Canada reported a case of mad cow disease in May 2003, the United States banned Canadian cattle and beef products. Restrictions were later relaxed to allow imports considered at very low risk of mad cow.
Then, in December, the government announced plans to further expand trade, including allowing live cattle under 2½ years old and certain other animals and beef products from Canada.