Washington, D.C. — In a hand-delivered letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, sixteen groups called the agency’s practice of using inadequate international standards and the OTM Rule to leverage global export markets into conformity with weaker disease standards “deplorable.” The OTM Rule was implemented in 2007 and authorizes the importation into the U.S. of older Canadian cattle that have a higher-risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The groups state they disagree with the “uncritical deference” that Vilsack has accorded the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which recently designated both the U.S. and Canada as ‘controlled risk’ countries for BSE. According to a letter R-CALF USA received from Vilsack , the agency believes the OIE’s designation provides assurance that measures are in place in both countries to manage ‘any possible risk of BSE in the cattle population,’ and that cattle and beef can be ‘safely traded by both nations.’
But the groups state that USDA is wrong to rely on the weaker OIE standards and that Vilsack’s stated position is inconsistent with Congress’ mandate “to protect animal health and the health and welfare of the people of the United States by preventing the introduction into or spread within the United States of BSE.” The groups urged Vilsack to carry out his congressional mandate by rescinding the OTM Rule.
The groups state also that Vilsack’s position is directly contradicted by his agency’s own risk assessment model that predicts that under the OTM Rule, the U.S. “will introduce 19 BSE-infected cattle from Canada over the course of 20 years,” and two U.S. cattle would become infected. In addition, the groups state that USDA “estimates the cost to U.S. cattle producers, for the privilege of begin exposed to a heightened risk for BSE from Canadian cattle and beef, would be over $66 million per year (or approx. $1.3 million each week), for which no c! ompensation can be obtained from anyone.”
The letter states that the OTM Rule is a human and animal health issue. “Clearly, the OTM Rule is increasing the risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. from Canada, increasing the risk of infection of BSE in both U.S. cattle and in humans, and causing tens of millions of dollars in financial losses for U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers.”
Along with R-CALF USA, the following 15 organizations joined the letter to urge Vilsack to immediately rescind the OTM Rule: Buckeye Quality Beef Association (OH), Cattle Producers of Washington, Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association, Independent Beef Association of North Dakota, Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming, Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, Kansas Farmers Union, Missouri Farmers Union, National Farmers Organization, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nevada Live Stock Association, Oregon Livestock Producers Association, Ozarks Property Rights Congress (MO), and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.