District farmers willing to test all cattle for BSE

Nerves are getting short among cattle producers in Rainy River District when it comes to BSE.
With the U.S. border closed to live Canadian cattle for nearly two years, cattlemen are getting edgy as they struggle to survive, which certainly was apparent at last Wednesday’s annual meeting of the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association in Stratton.
Roger Griffiths, area rep for the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, spoke to local members about all the effort the OCA has put into getting the U.S. border open again.
“As of March 7, 2005, we will hopefully be able to ship all beef products and live cattle under 30 months of age,” said Griffiths, noting a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture ruling targeted that date for re-opening the border.
Griffiths said the main reason for the decision is that Canada has done a great deal to reassure the U.S. that its beef supply is safe.
“We are now considered a minimal risk country,” he noted.
That means that even with the recent discovery of another BSE-infected animal in Alberta, Canada still will be “minimal risk” (under the U.S. rule, a country is allowed two cases per million head of cattle).
Griffiths said as long as a huge number of “mad cow” cases do not suddenly pop up that Canada will be good to go for U.S. trade.
He also noted that to prove the safety of Canadian cattle, the number of animals tested each year grew from a few thousand to 21,000 last year.
“We were supposed to test 8,000 last year but did 21,000. We are ramping up to 30,000 tests this year,” Griffiths said.
RRCA members Ken McKinnon and Len Kuorikoski both asked why not test all animals. “I would be willing to test every animal at a cost of $20-$30 each to be able to say my cattle are BSE-free,” said McKinnon.
Kuorikoski echoed those sentiments, saying, “Why not make it 100 percent safe?”
Griffiths replied that proposal was voted down at the annual OCA meeting, citing the costs of testing every animal.
“After two years, I think producers would be willing to pay that amount,” Kuorikoski retorted.
RRCA member Tom Morrish said the entire issue has been a political football.
“There is so little risk of people getting BSE,” he argued. “They are more at risk of E. coli or other diseases like chronic wasting disease in deer.”
Griffiths said the media is partially to blame. “Only 150 people worldwide have had BSE. It is more of a media frenzy,” he charged.
Griffiths added they are hopeful the U.S. border will re-open March 7 so that OCA can shift more of its resources to other issues affecting its members.
Many cattlemen, including Kuorikoski, said they do not think the border will open March 7, noting threats of a legal challenge by U.S. interest groups could delay the move.
On the positive side of things, if the border does re-open on March 7, Rainy River will be one of 11 crossings that will be allowed for cattle to cross into the U.S.
“When the rule came out saying there would be limited ports for the animals to enter, I checked for the list on the ’Net and Rainy River is one of them,” noted Gary Sliworsky, local ag rep for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.