WASHINGTON – The first new shipment of Canadian cattle rolled into the United States on Monday, four days after a federal appeals court ended a two-year-old ban originally instituted because of mad cow disease (search).
Thirty-five black Angus cattle crossed the border around noon at Lewiston, N.Y., near Niagara Falls, according to the shipper, Schaus Land and Cattle Co. (search) of Elmwood, Ontario. The animals were destined for a Pennsylvania slaughterhouse.
"It's been a long wait to get cattle to cross the line again," said company owner Wally Schaus. "We went from 18 trucks to nine, and it was a struggle to keep nine trucks busy, but with the border open again, it won't be hard to get 20 trucks going again."
In Washington state, a common destination for Canadian cattle, another Canadian shipper has submitted a request to cross the border.
"We haven't had a shipment go through yet, but we do have one in the process of being arranged. We don't know if it will be by the end of the day," said Mike Louisell, spokesman for the state's Agriculture Department.
Last Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) overturned a Montana judge's decision that had kept the border closed.
The United States banned Canadian cattle in May 2003 after Canada's first case of mad cow disease.
The ban hurt the U.S. meatpacking industry, which has laid off an estimated 8,000 workers. The industry estimates that Canada shipped 1 million head a year into the U.S. before the ban.
It also hurt Canada's cattle industry, costing Schaus alone millions of dollars, company controller Luke Simpson said.
"The border closing was an awful devastation," he said. "We had many, many cattle in inventory that suddenly were not worth very much."
Stan Eby, president of the 90,000-member Canadian Cattlemen's Association, called Monday "one of my better days."
"It's been 26 months since we've been in that marketplace," Eby said. The closure cost Canadian producers around $5.7 billion, his group said.
In the United States, the head of a meatpacking industry group called the shipment a victory.
It "should signal the world that the North American beef market is back open for business," said J. Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute.
U.S. and Canadian officials worked through the weekend to put certification and inspection procedures in place.
The U.S. was poised to lift the ban in March, but U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull granted a preliminary injunction to ranchers who have sued to keep the ban in place. The trial in the case is scheduled for July 27 in Billings, Mont.
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, a ranchers' group, hasn't decided whether to appeal last week's ruling because no opinion there has been released explaining why the judges ruled as the did.
"We are anxiously awaiting the 9th Circuit's decision — at this point, it's just impossible to know what, if any, impact that decision may have on our upcoming hearing," said Bill Bullard, the group's CEO.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell said Monday, "Canada continues to support the USDA as they prepare to defend" the border reopening at trial.
The lifting of the ban reopens the U.S. to cattle younger than 30 months and expands the types of beef products that Canada is allowed to ship. Older animals are still banned because infection levels are believed to increase with age.
Since discovering its first case in May 2003, Canada has found two more cases. The U.S. also found two more cases, one in a cow that was imported from Canada and one in a Texas-born cow.
Mad cow is a brain-wasting disease known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Eating tainted meat has been linked to the deaths of about 150 people from a fatal brain disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Most of the deaths were in the United Kingdom, where there was an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.