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Montana governor: USDA a ‘bunch of stooges’

Montana’s governor, who has fought the importation of young Canadian cattle, Saturday said U.S. states need to oversee federal inspectors of Canadian beef because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is acting in the interest of beef companies.
/ Source: Reuters

Montana’s governor, who has fought the importation of young Canadian cattle, Saturday said U.S. states need to oversee federal inspectors of Canadian beef because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is acting in the interest of beef companies.

“A few years ago, the four big meat companies, they expanded their role in this country. They bought a U.S. company called the United States Department of Agriculture,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said in an interview. “They are a bunch of stooges.”

“The USDA crawled right into bed with them (the meat companies) and they run our internal policy and our international (beef) policy,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer, a Democrat in a majority Republican state, has led a state fight against imports of Canadian cattle under 30 months of age after a federal appeals court lifted a two-year ban on Canadian cattle in July.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Montana court’s ruling and said U.S. imports of young Canadian cattle posed a negligible risk of spreading mad cow disease two years after Canada found its first domestic case.

State orders extra testing
Schweitzer then announced Montana would test Canadian cattle entering the state and charge for the extra inspection. The Montana-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund has fought for a permanent injunction against the Canadian imports.

The governor’s move angered Canada and the USDA, which said it inspects imported cattle and that Montana may not have the authority to conduct extra tests.

“All I said was Montana will watch the regulators of the USDA and ... the Canadians, and the USDA became unglued because we were going to require that they actually do their jobs,” Schweitzer said.

Critics have said Schweitzer is embracing a protectionist policy, but the governor said he was concerned about Canadian cattle imports driving down the price of Montana cattle.

“Bottom line, I’m trying to keep family ranchers in business,” he said.

The USDA increased its testing for mad cow disease after finding the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in December 2003 in a Washington state dairy cow.

Since June 2004, U.S. officials have sampled more than 430,000 cattle brains for the ailment and found one additional case in a 12-year-old Texas beef cow this summer.

The deaths of five women in the same rural area of neighboring Idaho from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare brain-wasting disease that typically afflicts only one in a million people, have also fueled mad cow fears.

That illness differs from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease. But Idaho officials have said they do not expect to find a link there to mad cow disease.