WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday that hundreds of cases of incomplete documentation of imported cattle from Canada, where mad cow concerns continue, involve "minor record-keeping" issues that do not endanger the safety of the U.S. food supply.
The cattle, many of which were missing ear tags for identification or whose health papers did not match their tags, have entered the United States from Canada in 2005 and 2006. They must be younger than 30 months old, which the USDA contends minimizes the risk that they have contracted cow disease.
"While we're still in the midst of the review, we're finding that the bulk of the violations appear to be minor record-keeping problems at the state level," said Andrea McNally of the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "We don't have a conclusion."
McNally said the department still is examining the documents, most of which consist of e-mails between Washington state agriculture officials and cattle feedlots and meat packing companies. The e-mails show the cattle industry representatives reporting about incomplete documentation of cattle from Canada.
The cattle ranchers who have been complaining about what they call lax enforcement of border controls by the USDA dismissed the department's explanation.
"I think this is passing the buck, ain't it?" said Lee Englehardt of the Cattle Producers of Washington, which filed a public request for the documents in 2006. "What's the point of an animal ID (identification) system if we can't keep the records straight on a select number of cattle from Canada?"
The documents, which were obtained by the Cattle Producers of Washington, suggest that officials there have had a difficult time tracking the entry of cattle from Canada.
Englehardt's group contends that the records show that the state and federal governments have experienced big problems trying to track Canadian cattle entering the United States They also contend that the mix-ups show that the USDA is incapable of administering a proposed federal cattle identification program to trace livestock.
McNally said that the cattle trucks are checked at the border by a government veterinarian, and that so far the department's review has not found problems in that process. "If they don't meet our import requirements, they are denied entry," McNally said.
Rarity of disease leads to WSU lab closure
PULLMAN - The only mad cow testing laboratory in the Northwest will close Thursday, more than three years after a Yakima Valley dairy cow tested positive for the chronic brain-wasting disease.
The Washington State University lab opened after the nation's first mad cow case in December 2003 prompted some new safeguards.
The closure of mad cow testing at WSU and several other locations across the country comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined the prevalence of the disease in the nation's cattle herd is "extraordinarily low."
- The Associated Press