Under pressure from Canada and large multi-national meat packing corporations, USDA had sought to circumvent its own rulemaking by quietly allowing shipments of Canadian beef that are at higher risk of carrying Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, than boneless cuts of beef.
Instead, USDA agreed to extend a restraining order that had been granted in a suit filed by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA).
"USDA was playing fast and loose with the safety and health of U.S. consumers, and the judge put a stop to it," said Bill Bullard, ceo of R-CALF USA CEO. "We think the government's decision not to fight an extension of the judge's order shows that USDA recognized it would have been hard to defend its position in court. We will continue to insist that USDA meet or exceed the minimally accepted international safety standards for protection against mad cow disease."
On April 26, Federal District Judge Richard Cebull granted R-CALF USA's request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to immediately halt the expansion of beef imports from Canada. The expansion of such imports would have reduced the U.S. standard for protection against mad cow disease to below the minimum standard used around the world.
The judge's order was based not only on the risks that beef from Canada could pose to U.S. consumers but also on USDA's failure to complete its own rulemaking process on the issue and on the Department's admission that it had allowed imports of beef from Canada in contravention of its own announced policy. According to import data maintained by USDA as well as similar data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, USDA allowed the import of as much as 3.5 million pounds of "bone-in" cuts of Canadian beef from September 2003 to February 2004, directly contradicting the policy it had announced in August.
The judge's order blocks imports of Canadian bone-in beef, ground beef, as well as, beef tongues, hearts, kidneys, tripe and lips. These products have a higher risk of carrying mad cow disease than boneless cuts of beef.
"This is a huge victory for food safety for U.S. consumers, and that's what this fight is all about," said Bullard. "The bottom line is that U.S. consumers must be confident that the beef they purchase in their neighborhood grocery store or restaurant is safe from mad cow disease."