PDF _ RL32627 - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (?Mad Cow Disease?) and Canadian Beef Imports
11-Mar-2005; Geoffrey S. Becker and Curtis W. Copeland; 27 p.

Update: June 3, 2005

Abstract: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or ?mad cow disease?) is a degenerative, fatal disease affecting the nervous system in cattle. In May 2003, BSE was confirmed in a cow in Alberta, Canada ? the first known native North American case. In December 2003, BSE was confirmed in a Canadian-born cow in Washington State ? the first known U.S. occurrence. On January 2 and 11, 2005, Canada announced two more cases of BSE, also in Alberta cows.

As the 2003 cases emerged, the Administration undertook a number of steps designed to strengthen U.S. BSE protections. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at one point in 2003 had banned all Canadian beef imports, but several months later, began to gradually reopen the border to some of them. The method by which it eased its initial Canadian beef ban raised concerns among some lawmakers, and has been one of a number of BSE-related issues of interest to Congress.

Specifically, shortly after the May 2003 Canadian BSE discovery, USDA published an interim final rule in the Federal Register prohibiting the importation of cattle and other ruminants and ruminant products from Canada. Then in August 2003, using its authority to permit imports from BSE countries ?in specific cases,? USDA began to relax this prohibition by allowing the importation of certain products, including boneless beef from animals under 30 months old, that it considers to be of much lower risk for BSE contamination.

After USDA acted on several subsequent occasions to expand the types of permitted products beyond those announced in August 2003, and to ease the conditions for their entry into the United States, a federal judge in April 2004 halted the expansion. He concluded that USDA had not followed rulemaking procedures as spelled out in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The judge noted, among other things, that import restrictions were being relaxed ?at the very same time when USDA is in the middle of a rulemaking to determine whether to take such a step.?

The judge was referring to a November 4, 2003, proposed rule that would allow entry of additional types of Canadian beef, other ruminant products, including younger cattle. After the court?s ruling, USDA officials agreed to limit bovine imports only to those they had approved for entry in August 2003, until after a final rule could be published. USDA published this rule in final form on January 4, 2005, which was to take effect March 7, 2005. However, the same federal judge, responding to another lawsuit, granted a temporary injunction that blocks implementation of the rule. So, the timing and extent of additional Canadian cattle and beef imports remain unclear as of this writing.

This report, which will be updated if significant developments ensue, provides a narrative chronology of selected U.S. actions after the discovery of BSE in North America, presenting in sequence this often confusing chain of events. The report focuses on USDA?s steps to reopen the U.S. border to Canadian beef, and concludes with a discussion of USDA?s actions in the context of APA rulemaking procedures. [read report]

Topics: Agriculture

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