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Monday, January 31,2005

China eases Canada bans

by WLJ
China recently lifted its ban on imports of poultry and poultry products from Canada, processed from Jan. 18 can now be imported. In addition, China has approved Canadian collection centers and processing facilities for bovine semen and embryos, and porcine semen and blood products, allowing trade to resume. This restores partial access to one of Canada's most important export markets in Asia. “China is one of our most important Asian markets, and we are very pleased with their decision to immediately resume trade in these areas. The decision underlines the level of confidence in Canada's food safety systems and the measures we have put in place," Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Andy Mitchell said in a statement. “I am pleased that our two countries are taking a science-based approach to resolving these important issues,” said Canada’s International Trade Minister Jim Peterson, during a Canadian trade mission to China last week. “We will continue discussions with China to open the border to remaining beef products and live animals," he said. In 2003, poultry and poultry products exports to China totaled more than $5 million (Canadian), and exports in semen and embryos totaled $3.5 million. Imports of poultry and poultry products were halted in February 2004 following the discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Canada. China's decision to lift the ban was based on evidence provided by Canada which showed that the disease had been eradicated and was consistent with the guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). A ban on imports of bovine and certain porcine products followed the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a Canadian cow in May 2003. China lifted the ban on a number of products in September 2004, following a series of technical discussions with Canadian officials. In October, during a visit to Beijing, Mitchell signed two protocols establishing the animal health conditions for resumption of trade in bovine semen and embryos. The recently approved Canadian establishments can now begin immediately to export these products, as well as porcine blood products, to China. "These developments are extremely positive news for both the poultry, the beef and the porcine industries, and reflects the success of recent efforts and discussions reinforcing the stringent measures we have in place to ensure the safety of Canadian products," Mitchell said. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

Crabgrass can be a first rate forage

by WLJ
Crabgrass is a troublesome weed for most producers. But, with a little careful planning and management, it can be a first rate forage, according to Bruce Anderson, extension Forage Specialist for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When Anderson says crabgrass, he asks producers what comes to mind? A tangled up mess on cultivator shanks? Aching fingers from weeding the garden? Crowded out plants in an alfalfa field? Anderson agrees crabgrass can be a problem. But he says it also can be an outstanding forage grass when used in the right place, at the right time and in the right way. “Cattle love crabgrass,” said Anderson. “When given a choice, cattle will graze crabgrass before almost any other forage. That's why you rarely see much of it in pastures. And they perform well, too. Steers have gained over two and one-half pounds per day on well-managed crabgrass.” Generally, Anderson has found that most producers use crabgrass in a double crop or multi-crop program. Producers plant it after grazing out rye or another small grain. Later, when the crabgrass goes dormant during cooler weather, a small grain is drilled again, directly into the crabgrass residue. According to Anderson, it also can be grown in combination with sudangrass, pearl millet, or forage corn. To use crabgrass most effectively, Anderson said natural reseeding should be encouraged so the crop need not be planted each year. “This might cause some lower animal production as you delay use to assure good seed production, especially during the first year,” he said. “But, after that, plenty of seed probably will be in the soil for several years.” Like other grasses, Anderson added that crabgrass will respond well to nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation, and rotational grazing. “In the wrong place, crabgrass is a problem weed,” said Anderson. “If used correctly, though, you can make it one of your best pasture crops.” — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

COOL changes discussed

by WLJ
— Seafood protocol could set precedent for beef. The sixth annual R-CALF USA convention included a “surf and turf” theme during its country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) session. Margaret Bryan Curole, shrimper and representative of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, spoke to the group about the way her industry deals with new compliance rules for mandatory COOL, some of which could affect beef producers down the road. One of the major changes Curole cited was the exemption of labeling of processed foods. USDA defines a processed food as an item that “is changed in character by processing or combining it with other food components.” By this definition, Curole said a wider range—approximately 50 percent—of seafood product is exempted. “Exempting 50 percent of the product does not accurately reflect the law, nor consumer preference to know the country of origin of the seafood they purchase,” said Curole. Curole used canned salmon as an example. Under the new COOL regulations, this product is exempt from COOL. “In these cases, wild salmon fishing communities in the U.S., will not have the opportunity to benefit since consumers will not be able to choose their product based on this knowledge and consumers will remain in the dark about where their food comes from,” she said. She also indicated that the regulation change on processed fish is especially worrisome to that industry since research has indicated that most of those products are found to come from other countries and have high levels of contaminates. Some of the contaminates are chemicals banned in the U.S., but permitted in other countries. She noted that only one to two percent of all seafood imported into the U.S. is inspected. “COOL labeling will allow consumers to know if the seafood is farm raised in countries with less stringent health regulations,” said Curole. Just as some in the beef industry believe, Curole said, many in the seafood industry believe USDA should maintain country-of-origin information throughout the chain of production. “If a viral outbreak occurs, the seafood in every grocery store freezer and at every fish farm has to be traced back to every source,” said Curole. USDA perspective Bill Sessions deputy administrator of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) addressed the crowd about the COOL changes, and noted that the official rule for COOL was issued in October 2004 and the effective date is April 2005. The principal components of the interim final rule are: who must label, what must be labeled, determining origin and method of production, record-keeping, and compliance and enforcement. These components are some of the same issues R-CALF members have been dealing with, meaning the seafood industry could set precedence for the beef industry if and when mandatory COOL comes to fruition. In terms of labeling, Sessions explained that Congress was very clear in saying that designated retailers are defined in the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA). The PACA definition exempts a lot of small fish markets, as well as restaurants and food service establishments. These establishments will lawfully be allowed to sell seafood without labeling it’s country of origin. To address Curole’s concern over the exclusion of processed foods, Sessions reiterated that was also a requirement of Congress’ law, which USDA had to interpret. “The statute that Congress gave us said that any time a covered commodity was an ingredient in a processed food item, it was exempt from labeling,” said Sessions. He added that the food product either had to undergo a change of character through cooking, curing, canning, smoking or restructuring or be combined with another commodity to be considered as a processed food. For farm-raised seafood to be labeled as of U.S. origin, it must be hatched, raised, harvested and processed in the U.S. and not undergo a substantial transformation outside of the U.S. As far as beef, animals must be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to receive U.S. country of origin labeling. In a departure from the proposed rule, Sessions noted that each of the processes for farm-raised fish must be noted. For example, he said some fish are hatched in Canada and brought to the U.S. to be raised and processed. Under the previous rule, those fish would have been labeled as U.S. origin. However, after revisions, the final rule mandates that those fish be labeled as Canadian origin, processed in the U.S., the same label required by the Customs Department. Sessions said this simplifies the rule and should reduce the cost. In the instance that a product is blended, he indicated that the label must say all the countries that influenced the making of the product. According to the proposed rule, the countries were to be listed according to the amount present. This type of rule could set tenure for the beef industry when selling hamburger. Sessions noted the changes made to record-keeping requirements for mandatory COOL. Under the proposed rule, suppliers would have had to maintain records for two years, but under the final rule, they are only required to keep records for one year. Retailers have to keep records for one year as well. This is expected to result in lower costs for maintaining COOL. The other change to the record-keeping regulation is that suppliers only have to identify the previous source and the subsequent recipient. In terms of the cost of implementing mandatory COOL for the seafood industry, Sessions remarked that USDA’s estimated cost for the proposed rule was $159 million. Because of the program changes, he said, the new estimate reflects a cost of $89 million. On a final note, Sessions said the comment period is open until Feb. 2. He suggested producers visit USDA’s COOL web site, review the official regulations and submit comments before the final rule is published in the Federal Register. Sessions did not give an indication as to when the final rule would be published. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

Horse slaughter increases

by WLJ
— Legislation banning practice to be proposed. New figures from USDA reveal an increase in the number of horses slaughtered in the U.S. last year for human consumption. Nearly 65,000 horses were slaughtered in 2004, 28 percent more than 2003. However, those horses aren’t processed for domestic U.S. consumption. The horses are slaughtered at one of three foreign-owned slaughter plants, and the meat is sent to Europe and Asia, where it is considered a delicacy. Because a large majority of the horses processed are competitive racehorses in the public spotlight and pets, several animal rights groups are stepping up their efforts to have the practice made illegal, including through congressional action. The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA), sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. John E. Sweeney, R-NY, received the support of more than half the House’s members last year, but stalled out in the Agriculture Committee. A similar bill introduced in the Senate, by Sen. John Ensign, R-NV, was also popular with lawmakers, but did not progress sufficiently. There are indications AHSPA will be reintroduced in the 109th Congress before the end of February. The proposed law also would prevent the slaughter of wild horses. That would combat a rider amendment in the 2005 omnibus spending bill instructing the federal government to send thousands of wild horses to auction, where they are likely to be bought for slaughter. Under that amendment, introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-MT, wild horses would be put up for adoption three separate times, and if a particular animal isn’t adopted after the third time, auctioning off the animal is the next option. Western ranching interests called the Burns legislation appropriate because wild horses don’t stay within fenced areas of federal land very well and once they get out they infringe on private ranch lands and utilize a lot of the forage set aside for cattle, sheep and other livestock. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

Johanns asked to listen to whistleblower

by WLJ
Eighteen farm, consumer and public interest groups last Wednesday delivered a letter to new Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, expressing concern about the apparent retaliation against the chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals (NJC), who recently made disclosures covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). On Dec. 8, NJC chairman Charles Painter sent a letter on behalf of the the government meat inspectors' union to the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), outlining concerns about the removal of "specified risk materials" (SRMs) from cattle and FSIS inspectors' ability to enforce the export requirements for products destined for Mexico. SRMS are the nervous system tissues believed to be most likely to carry the infectious prions that cause BSE. Among his concerns: 1) Plant employees are not correctly identifying and marking animals over 30 months old, which means plant employees and government personnel further down the line are unaware that numerous parts should be removed as SRMs and these high-risk materials are entering the food supply, and 2) Production line inspectors are not authorized by the USDA to take actions when they see plant employees sending products that do not meet export requirements past the point on the line where they can be identified and removed. Rather than addressing the issues raised, USDA reacted to the letter by directing extraordinary resources to targeting the NCJ chairman and other regional union presidents: • On Dec. 23, an FSIS compliance officer appeared unannounced at the home of Painter while he was on annual leave to question him about the allegations in the letter. • On Dec. 28, Painter received a notice from FSIS that he was under formal investigation. • On Jan. 6, Painter was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be questioned for three hours by FSIS. • On Jan. 7, seven regional council presidents for the NJC also were ordered to appear in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11 for an interview. "Mr. Painter offered this information to the USDA because he was concerned that the agency's inadequate policy could put consumers in danger," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's food program. "The USDA should have been grateful, but it chose to attack the whistleblower instead of attacking the problem. Secretary Johanns has emphasized that USDA employees should be treated with 'equality, dignity, and respect.' We urge him to live up to those words and stop this retaliatory investigation of Mr. Painter." In his letter, Painter did not identify specific plants where reports had come from because he did not know. In fact, he chose not to learn the identity of the plants, so that he would not be forced to disclose this information, which could allow the agency to take retaliatory action against the inspectors assigned to these plants. "This case presents a classic example of the value and necessity of whistleblowers," the letter from the public interest groups said. "The concerns outlined by Mr. Painter's letter are of vital interest to consumers, especially in light of recent announcements of the discovery of two more cases of mad cow disease in Canada and the agency's intent to re-establish imports of live animals from Canada. The public has the right to know that the reality inside meat plants is not the same as the picture being painted for the media by USDA officials in Washington, D.C." The groups urge Johanns to immediately investigate this incident and to reconsider the decision to initiate a formal misconduct investigation of Painter. The USDA also should take steps necessary to establish an environment inside FSIS that encourages employees to disclose issues of waste, fraud or threats to public health, the groups said. The groups signing onto the letter include: the American Corn Growers Association, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Community Nutrition Institute, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Foundation, Inc., Family Farm Defenders, Government Accountability Project, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Farmers Union, Lane County Food Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, Safe Tables Our Priority, The Humane Society of the United States and the Weston A. Price Foundation. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

Johanns asked to listen to whistleblower

by WLJ
Eighteen farm, consumer and public interest groups last Wednesday delivered a letter to new Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, expressing concern about the apparent retaliation against the chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals (NJC), who recently made disclosures covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). On Dec. 8, NJC chairman Charles Painter sent a letter on behalf of the the government meat inspectors' union to the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), outlining concerns about the removal of "specified risk materials" (SRMs) from cattle and FSIS inspectors' ability to enforce the export requirements for products destined for Mexico. SRMS are the nervous system tissues believed to be most likely to carry the infectious prions that cause BSE. Among his concerns: 1) Plant employees are not correctly identifying and marking animals over 30 months old, which means plant employees and government personnel further down the line are unaware that numerous parts should be removed as SRMs and these high-risk materials are entering the food supply, and 2) Production line inspectors are not authorized by the USDA to take actions when they see plant employees sending products that do not meet export requirements past the point on the line where they can be identified and removed. Rather than addressing the issues raised, USDA reacted to the letter by directing extraordinary resources to targeting the NCJ chairman and other regional union presidents: • On Dec. 23, an FSIS compliance officer appeared unannounced at the home of Painter while he was on annual leave to question him about the allegations in the letter. • On Dec. 28, Painter received a notice from FSIS that he was under formal investigation. • On Jan. 6, Painter was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be questioned for three hours by FSIS. • On Jan. 7, seven regional council presidents for the NJC also were ordered to appear in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11 for an interview. "Mr. Painter offered this information to the USDA because he was concerned that the agency's inadequate policy could put consumers in danger," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's food program. "The USDA should have been grateful, but it chose to attack the whistleblower instead of attacking the problem. Secretary Johanns has emphasized that USDA employees should be treated with 'equality, dignity, and respect.' We urge him to live up to those words and stop this retaliatory investigation of Mr. Painter." In his letter, Painter did not identify specific plants where reports had come from because he did not know. In fact, he chose not to learn the identity of the plants, so that he would not be forced to disclose this information, which could allow the agency to take retaliatory action against the inspectors assigned to these plants. "This case presents a classic example of the value and necessity of whistleblowers," the letter from the public interest groups said. "The concerns outlined by Mr. Painter's letter are of vital interest to consumers, especially in light of recent announcements of the discovery of two more cases of mad cow disease in Canada and the agency's intent to re-establish imports of live animals from Canada. The public has the right to know that the reality inside meat plants is not the same as the picture being painted for the media by USDA officials in Washington, D.C." The groups urge Johanns to immediately investigate this incident and to reconsider the decision to initiate a formal misconduct investigation of Painter. The USDA also should take steps necessary to establish an environment inside FSIS that encourages employees to disclose issues of waste, fraud or threats to public health, the groups said. The groups signing onto the letter include: the American Corn Growers Association, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Community Nutrition Institute, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Foundation, Inc., Family Farm Defenders, Government Accountability Project, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Farmers Union, Lane County Food Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, Safe Tables Our Priority, The Humane Society of the United States and the Weston A. Price Foundation. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

KAY’S KORNER: Facts have been lost to self-interest

by WLJ
It’s about time those folk who want to keep our border closed to Canadian cattle came clean. They’re not really interested in science or consumer confidence in the U.S. beef supply. They just want to keep making as much money as they’ve made since the border closed on May 20, 2003. Cow-calf producers have just enjoyed the best two years of profits in at least the last 30 years (according to data from the Livestock Marketing Information Center). That’s unless their operation was badly hurt by the drought that still lingers in parts of the western U.S. So it’s understandable they see a border reopening as a threat. What I object to is that people can’t be honest about it. Since USDA published its final rule on January 4 to reopen the border to Canadian feeder and fed cattle, I’ve heard just about every convoluted argument about keeping the border closed that I could have imagined. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the border closing suddenly in 2003. Yet packers and cattle feeders who relied on Canadian cattle to help them stay in business were immediately impacted and have been since. We’ve seen at least three cattle slaughter plants close because of the loss of Canadian cattle. They didn’t complain because they recognized the border needed to be closed for a time. So why is it so difficult for people to understand that at some point, the border needed to reopen again. Unfortunately, USDA muddied the reopening issue by taking a step-by-step approach. That never made sense to me. Once USDA had established that the Canadian cattle and beef supply was safe, strictly according to scientific criteria surrounding BSE safeguards, then full trade should have resumed in all cattle and beef products. That way, any impact on markets would have been spread as evenly as the impact of a 100 percent border closure was. Instead, we have a final rule that contains a bizarre contradiction. It allows in beef from Canadian cattle 30 months of age and over but not the cattle themselves. USDA tied itself in knots on this because it was concerned about antagonizing R-CALF who had already successfully sued it last April. Yet R-CALF has sued USDA again anyway. We also have packers suing USDA over the contradiction. And we have NCBA on the other side demanding the beef part be withdrawn. Yet USDA isn’t going to change a word of the final rule unless a court forces it. If it agrees to remove or change any part of the rule, it would play right into R-CALF’s hands over its latest lawsuit. USDA would be admitting its rule is not based on science and a judge would probably agree with R-CALF that the rule is arbitrary and capricious. Also lost in the clamor are some basic facts. First, the BSE measures introduced by the U.S. and Canada since the 1980s are very similar. Both countries’ measures as they stand today are virtually identical. The most notable is the removal of specified risk material (SRMs) from all cattle. These are the materials that are believed to possibly harbor the early elements of BSE. It’s very important to realize that the removal of SRMs is the best way to protect consumers from being exposed to the human form of BSE. And the proper disposal of those SRMs means none of this material will find its way into cattle feed and thus be a threat to cattle. Much has been made of Canada’s third BSE cow being born after the feed ban. The facts are these. In both Canada and the U.S., there was a grace period whereby producers could keep using feed produced before the bans took effect. The bans were on producing ruminant feed with any ruminant-derived material in it. Some people now say the government should have banned the use of all feed produced before the ban. But imagine the screams of protest if that had been suggested. In 1997, there wasn’t the same urgency about BSE there is today. Second, forcing producers to destroy feed would have been a huge financial hardship. And it would have been impossible to enforce. The fact is, the U.S. could just as easily as Canada have a BSE case of an animal born after the 1997 feed ban. Many tons of feed produced before our ban were used on U.S. farms for at least a year after the ban. What would opponents of a border reopening say if the U.S. announced such a case tomorrow? As for the argument that reopening the border will hurt the U.S.’s chances of resuming beef exports to Japan, that’s nonsense. Japan has made it clear it is not an issue. In fact, Japan may begin accepting Canadian beef before it accepts U.S. beef, based on how talks between the two countries’ Prime Ministers went the week before last. That sure would undermine arguments about how unsafe Canadian beef and cattle are. The bottom line is that producers are protecting their bottom lines. Southern Plains cow-calf operation returns in 2004 exceeded $140 per cow, according to LIMC, up from $85 in 2003.These profits are blinding some people to the reality that the border will reopen, and that the sooner it does, the faster the U.S. market can return to normality.

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Monday, January 31,2005

Letters

by WLJ
Of course it’s politics I’m a long-time reader of WLJ, and I’ve become increasingly disappointed in its position on BSE and the Canadian border. Pete’s Jan. 10 column dismisses R- CALF’s safety concerns with the assertion that such concerns merely mask what for R-CALF is really “a market issue”; that it really is a “simple philosophy of protectionism.” Pete further argues that with “92 percent of the world’s population outside the U.S., …the marketing opportunities would be rich….” To Pete’s credit, his Jan. 17 column, coming on the heels of the most recent BSE case, had a softened tone. There are two issues: the science underlying BSE and the issue of “protectionism.” They should not be lumped together as Pete initially attempted. First, an observation regarding Pete’s population argument. While correct on his number, he ignores the fact that America controls over 40 percent of the world’s wealth. Why else would Canada, Australia, Brazil, China and the rest of the world want access to our small eight percent of the world’s population? Products are not purchased by raw demographics but by wealth. As to “protectionism,” what’s wrong with it? America became a global power by practicing “protectionism.” From Jefferson to Teddy Roosevelt, this nation’s leaders were mostly “protectionists.” Lincoln declared, “give us a protective tariff, and we will have the greatest country on earth.” Teddy Roosevelt had no use for academic “free trade” theoreticians “who have confined themselves to study in the closet; for the actual workings of the tariff has emphatically contradicted their theories.” What have been the fruits of the “free trade” theoreticians? They have destroyed America’s arsenal of manufacturing which Churchill credited with having been the deciding factor in the second World War. They have taken agriculture from a trade surplus to a trade deficit. They have transformed America from the world’s greatest creditor to the world’s greatest debtor. Global trade is about low cost production. American agriculture is not the low-cost producer. We live in a litigious society and have the overall highest tax/regulatory burden on the planet. If government chooses to ignore the crisis of litigation while at the same time burdening its producers with workman’s compensation, an overall tax burden approaching 50 percent, and a host of environmental strictures, it cannot then bid us compete with producers not saddled with like burdens. Taking C.S. Lewis out of context, “we castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.” We worship at the altar of “free trade” yet refuse to debate trade issues, derisively dismissing critics as “protectionists.” Free trade cannot be abstractly discussed solely on the basis of Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Exchange rates, labor and environmental standards all must enter into the discussion. As to science, the OIE requires that a meat and bone meal feed ban must be effectively enforced for eight years in order for a country to be designated a “minimal risk.” USDA petitioned OIE for a relaxation of the eight-year period but its request was denied with the observation that “one of the most important conclusions of the recent OIE expert group is that the scientific basis used in the present Code is still valid.” USDA ignored the OIE, concluding instead that a seven-year ban exceeds the BSE incubation period.” Further, it is unclear whether Canada has effectively enforced its ban even for seven years. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s 2004 study found that 71 percent of Canadian manufactured feed labeled “vegetable only” in fact had undeclared animal protein. Canadian investigations have also revealed that potentially 2,000 head of cattle may have been exposed to BSE-contaminated feed as a consequence of rendering the May 2003 BSE cow. Surely, Pete you would concede that the foregoing are legitimate science questions and not merely a facade masking market issues. While his Jan. 17 column acknowledges that R-CALF has some “compelling points,” Pete also concludes that some points “may be a bit of a stretch.” He particularly points to the issue of TSE prions and hamster research, arguing that if the research “was so compelling why hasn’t it been utilized more, since this thing is supposed to be ‘science based.’” Bottom line—BSE epidemiology is not well understood at this point. Dr. Stanley Prusiner, Nobel Prize winner in medicine for his discovery of prions, was asked his opinion of our efforts to control BSE. His response, in a word, “terrible.” Therein lies the nub—the border issue is “supposed to be science based.” USDA’s actions are not science based but are political decisions. Wetland regulation, the Endangered Species Act, global warming and Kyoto, the refusal to drill ANWR and upgrade this nation’s refinery capability, are not decisions based on science. They are all political decisions as is USDA’s rule attempting to reopen the Canadian border. Since the decision isn’t going to be made on science, what we really need is a good debate on “protectionism” and its role in the future of America’s production of beef. Sincerely, Jay Platt St. Johns, AZ Safe North American beef Dear Editor, I would first like to commend you on your coverage of BSE, I find it to be very informative, and it is a refreshing change to read a newspaper that gives an impartial view on the issues between Canada and the U.S. and that shows more than just R-CALF's point of view. I was very interested to read the letter to the Editor titled "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut-up" from Corey Gall in Tripp, SD, and the comments that his/her uncle had passed on concerning Premier Klein telling ranchers and farmers they should "shoot, shovel and shut-up " about any possible sick animals. I'm not sure where this uncle gets his news from, but it is over a one-and-a-half years out of date. Ralph Klein made that remark in September of 2003 at a weekend meeting in Montana for Premiers of the Western Provinces and U.S. Governors. Mr. Klein said later that he didn't mean for his remark to be taken as advice literally, but simply that if the owner of the first BSE confirmed cow had done just that, (as many cattle producers do when they have a sick animal that they know will not get better) the border wouldn't have closed to exports. In lieu of the following three cases, it would have happened anyway, but Mr. Klein is not known throughout Canada for his subtleties, and his frustration with the whole situation got the better of him that day, but even Mr Klein realizes that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and not acknowledging it would be suicide for the beef industry in Canada. I do believe that Canada needs to be in 100 percent compliance with their feed ban in order for the rest of the world to believe them when they say they are within guidelines and that their beef is safe. I do, however, question how the U.S. can point their fingers and yell and scream when it was reported in your paper that of the 110 samples taken and found to be contaminated, over half were imported and that some of these were from the U.S.? Canada is also relying on other countries feed that they import to be safe and within the guidelines in order for decisions based on science to be applied concerning BSE. I know I will have no problem eating beef in Alberta when I go home to visit my family this summer, and I don't know any other Canadian that will. Sincerely, Kathy Falkenstine Bellevue, ID

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Monday, January 31,2005

Johanns asked to listen to whistleblower

by WLJ
Eighteen farm, consumer and public interest groups last Wednesday delivered a letter to new Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, expressing concern about the apparent retaliation against the chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals (NJC), who recently made disclosures covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). On Dec. 8, NJC chairman Charles Painter sent a letter on behalf of the the government meat inspectors' union to the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), outlining concerns about the removal of "specified risk materials" (SRMs) from cattle and FSIS inspectors' ability to enforce the export requirements for products destined for Mexico. SRMS are the nervous system tissues believed to be most likely to carry the infectious prions that cause BSE. Among his concerns: 1) Plant employees are not correctly identifying and marking animals over 30 months old, which means plant employees and government personnel further down the line are unaware that numerous parts should be removed as SRMs and these high-risk materials are entering the food supply, and 2) Production line inspectors are not authorized by the USDA to take actions when they see plant employees sending products that do not meet export requirements past the point on the line where they can be identified and removed. Rather than addressing the issues raised, USDA reacted to the letter by directing extraordinary resources to targeting the NCJ chairman and other regional union presidents: • On Dec. 23, an FSIS compliance officer appeared unannounced at the home of Painter while he was on annual leave to question him about the allegations in the letter. • On Dec. 28, Painter received a notice from FSIS that he was under formal investigation. • On Jan. 6, Painter was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be questioned for three hours by FSIS. • On Jan. 7, seven regional council presidents for the NJC also were ordered to appear in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11 for an interview. "Mr. Painter offered this information to the USDA because he was concerned that the agency's inadequate policy could put consumers in danger," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's food program. "The USDA should have been grateful, but it chose to attack the whistleblower instead of attacking the problem. Secretary Johanns has emphasized that USDA employees should be treated with 'equality, dignity, and respect.' We urge him to live up to those words and stop this retaliatory investigation of Mr. Painter." In his letter, Painter did not identify specific plants where reports had come from because he did not know. In fact, he chose not to learn the identity of the plants, so that he would not be forced to disclose this information, which could allow the agency to take retaliatory action against the inspectors assigned to these plants. "This case presents a classic example of the value and necessity of whistleblowers," the letter from the public interest groups said. "The concerns outlined by Mr. Painter's letter are of vital interest to consumers, especially in light of recent announcements of the discovery of two more cases of mad cow disease in Canada and the agency's intent to re-establish imports of live animals from Canada. The public has the right to know that the reality inside meat plants is not the same as the picture being painted for the media by USDA officials in Washington, D.C." The groups urge Johanns to immediately investigate this incident and to reconsider the decision to initiate a formal misconduct investigation of Painter. The USDA also should take steps necessary to establish an environment inside FSIS that encourages employees to disclose issues of waste, fraud or threats to public health, the groups said. The groups signing onto the letter include: the American Corn Growers Association, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Community Nutrition Institute, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Foundation, Inc., Family Farm Defenders, Government Accountability Project, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Farmers Union, Lane County Food Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, Safe Tables Our Priority, The Humane Society of the United States and the Weston A. Price Foundation. — WLJ

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Monday, January 31,2005

National Animal ID on Internet

by WLJ
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Jan. 26 the launch of a new Web site to inform stakeholders about the national animal identification system (NAIS). The Web site, available at http://www.usda.gov/nais, is designed to be a one-stop resource to facts about NAIS. "We hope our stakeholders will visit the site frequently to find out the latest news about the NAIS from a national perspective," said APHIS Administrator W. Ron DeHaven. "It will be updated regularly as new information becomes available." In addition to providing national news, the site provides contact information for state and tribal animal health authorities. The states and tribes are responsible for providing premises under their purview with a nationally unique identification numbers—the starting point of the NAIS. All states should be able to assign nationally unique premise identification numbers to locations where animals are managed or held by mid-2005. Over time, APHIS plans to add to the new Web site resources targeted to specific species and industry-segment groups. Currently, NAIS working groups comprised of industry and government representatives have been established for cattle and bison, sheep, swine, poultry, horses, llamas and alpacas, deer and elk, and livestock markets and processors. In implementing the NAIS, USDA's goal is to provide animal health officials the ability to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery. As an information system that provides for rapid tracing of infected and exposed animals during an outbreak situation, the NAIS will help limit the scope of such outbreaks and ensure that they are contained and eradicated as quickly as possible. With the recent passage of the Fiscal Year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, APHIS will receive approximately $33 million for NAIS implementation. USDA also transferred $18.8 million from its Commodity Credit Corporation to APHIS during fiscal year 2004 to support the NAIS.

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