The American Meat Institute filed a legal challenge charging that continuing to enforce a ban on older cattle from Canada is “arbitrary and capricious.” The challenge was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia saying there is no legal or scientific justification for continuing to ban Canadian cattle 30 months of age and older.

The filing came a day after USDA posted for display at the Federal Register a new rule affecting beef and cattle imports. The ban on Canadian cattle and beef dates back to May 2003, when Canada diagnosed a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in an Alberta cow.

Ironically, the week after AMI filed the lawsuit, another case of BSE was confirmed in Canada on Jan. 2 (link to news item). However, USDA expressed continued confidence in the Canadian food system and no part of the infected animal entered the human food system or the animal feed system.

In it’s pleadings, AMI said that USDA continues to ban the importation of Canadian cattle 30 months and older and that this is “scientifically insupportable and is therefore arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the law, in violation of the Administration Procedure Act.” AMI made clear it is not challenging the rule announced yesterday, but is seeking an injunction against enforcement of the original May 2003 ban.

Under international trade guidelines set by the Office of International Epizootics, Canada’s response to the May 2003 BSE case and the system it established long before to ensure cattle health and the ability to identify and trace livestock, are more than adequate to justify full trade in cattle and beef products with Canada regardless of an animal’s age.

According to AMI, the May 2003 border closing has caused Canada to expand its slaughtering capacity by building new plants and adding shifts to existing plants. Meanwhile, many U.S. packers have been hit hard economically by short cattle supplies and high prices for lean beef and cows.

The complaint noted that under OIE guidelines, Canadian cattle born after the implementation of Canada’s feed ban in 1997- rather than the much more restrictive under-30-month limit set in the final rule- could be imported into the United States.

American Meat Institute, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service