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From: TSS ()
Subject: Hundreds of Canadian cattle entering U.S. without ID tags, documents show
Date: February 19, 2007 at 7:23 am PST

Posted on Mon, Feb. 19, 2007

Canadian cattle entering U.S. without ID tags, documents show

By Stephen J. Hedges

Chicago Tribune


SPOKANE, Wash. - Hundreds of cattle from Canada, which this month confirmed its ninth case of mad cow disease, have entered the United States without government-required health papers or identification tags, according to documents obtained by cattlemen in Washington state.

The documents, consisting largely of correspondence between state officials and American cattle and meat companies, suggest problems with numerous truckloads of cattle that are shipped into this country almost daily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently launched an investigation into the Canadian cattle trade based on the documents, according to a top department official.

Many of the documents note that cattle arrived in the U.S. without identification tags, or they had tag numbers that did not match the accompanying health certificates. Overall, the approximately 700 pages of records suggest that officials from Washington and possibly other states are having difficulty tracking hundreds of cattle that arrive from Canada each week.

Ranchers and food safety groups criticize the USDA, saying it has insufficiently monitored the movement of cattle into the U.S. Lax regulation of the border trade, these critics say, could lead to more mad cow cases in the U.S., undermining consumer confidence in beef.

Mad cow, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a neurological disease that attacks a cow's central nervous system. It is believed that humans can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a disorder that eats away at the brain, by consuming meat from BSE-infected cattle.

Ear tags or electronic identification - EID - tags that are supposed to be on cattle entering the U.S. from Canada are meant to track the cattle in case of an outbreak of disease or other problem. Health certificates confirm the health of cattle and also that they are under 30 months old, because young cattle are not thought to be fully vulnerable to mad cow.

Together, the tags and health papers provide the major protection against sick cows coming into the country. The USDA is supposed to work with Canadian agriculture officials to ensure that all incoming cattle have these safeguards.

But the documents obtained by the ranchers show that this often is not the case.

In a memo dated March 7, 2006, representatives of one American cattle operation wrote, "52 head of the 60 came in NO EID. The papers have a mixture of EID & bar codes for official tags. We recorded the bar codes (although a couple came in with no tags at all) and gave them our EID tag."

Numerous state documents listing each truckload of cattle - about 40 to 65 head of cattle are on each truck - include the notation "tag not matched" next to the individual truckload number.

"We had a load come in with the wrong health papers all together," stated an e-mail dated April 6 to the state from a cattle firm. "It was never caught at the border." The correct health papers for that load of 66 cattle, the e-mail's author noted, were later obtained from officials at the U.S.-Canadian border.

In a statement, the Washington State Veterinarian's Office said it works with the USDA "to reconcile the ear tags on cattle with Canadian brands with the information on the USDA documents."

The Veterinarian's Office is giving more scrutiny than ever to the movement of imported cattle, the statement said.

"Some of the animal identification numbers on the USDA importation documents were transposed or did not match the ear tag, and some animals lost ear tags in transit. These kinds of things can and do occur in the commerce of animals," the statement said.

The Cattle Producers of Washington, the organization that obtained the documents under Washington state's Public Disclosure Act, is a group of ranchers and cattle brokers many of whose members live not far from where the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in December 2003.

That dairy cow, found in Mabton, Wash., had been imported from Canada, which had discovered its own mad cow four months earlier.

After the 2003 mad cow discoveries, the USDA halted the shipment of Canadian cattle and beef products into the United States. But in 2005, the USDA began to allow shipments of cattle younger than 30 months.

The cattle producers said they sought the records to determine whether the state and federal governments were enforcing regulations that govern Canadian imports. They are concerned about the impact of lower-priced Canadian imports on their own businesses, as well as the potential spread of disease from Canadian cattle that don't have proper medical papers.

The ranchers said they are worried about foot-and-mouth disease as well as mad cow. "Mad cow doesn't spread cow-to-cow," noted Willard Wolf, a cattle broker from Spokane who is vice president of the Cattle Producers of Washington. "Foot-and-mouth does, and it could affect a whole herd."

The cattlemen notified the USDA of the documentation problems several weeks ago, according to Bruce Knight, the USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. "We have folks initiating an investigation, trying to draw all the information together," Knight said.

The documents also suggest that Washington state has had difficulty tracking Canadian cattle once they are in the U.S. In early 2006, for instance, the Washington Agriculture Department sent out notices trying to determine where older Canadian cows might be.

A notice dated March 9, 2006, from Cynthia Fairley, of the state's animal identification program, asked an unidentified cattle company about 219 Canadian cattle in the U.S. that apparently were over the 30-month age limit. It was unclear from the memo whether the cattle had entered the U.S. before the 2003 import ban.

"Here is the list of ... Canadian cattle over 30 months old for which we have no record of slaughter," Fairley wrote. "Could you please verify that they have gone and where they've gone?"

In an e-mail on February 3, 2006, from Fairley to a cattle company, she listed 32 cattle that were missing health certificates. "I know it seems like a lot," Fairley wrote, "but we've accounted for every scrap of paper and they're definitely not here."

Meanwhile, two meatpacking companies, joined by cattle feed lot owners and brokers in the U.S. and Canada, have sued Washington state for releasing the documents. The suit claims the release violates a state law protecting confidential business information from disclosure.

Kristen Mitchell, an assistant Washington attorney general, said the Cattle Producers of Washington requested the documents before the new law took effect.

Washington isn't the only state struggling to identify imported Canadian cattle.

In South Dakota, cattle rancher Jan Van Dyke of Wessington Springs has been in a dispute with the USDA and a large meatpacking company, Swift & Co., over eight of the 43 cattle that he sent to Swift for slaughter in 2006.

Swift initially withheld payment for the cattle - about $11,000, Van Dyke said, because Swift said they were Canadian and without health papers.

Swift later agreed to pay the $11,000, Van Dyke said. Knight said a USDA investigation showed that the cattle were brought into the U.S. by Swift, and that they had been accidentally mingled with Van Dyke's cattle.

Van Dyke contends, however, that the cattle were his and that he was paid only after the issue became public during a January conference in Denver with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Charles Conner.


© 2007, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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