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Great Lakes Article:

Open border to cattle, states and provinces urge
Canadian Press
02/13/04

Great Lakes states and provinces are urging Canada and the United States to quickly reopen their borders to live cattle to help restore public confidence in food safety, and say BSE-related restrictions must be based on science, not emotions.

"We need to ensure that a science-based approach is taken on this issue," Ontario Agriculture Minister Steve Peters said today as he wrapped up a meeting with his counterparts from Quebec and several U.S. states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.

Peters said the provinces and states want their federal governments to "recognize that this is a North American issue" to help expedite the reopening of the borders as quickly as possible.

"Certainly we need to demonstrate to our international community, that goes beyond just the United States and Canada, that in fact we do need to be dealing with science, as opposed to emotional perceptions that often times become more of an issue," said Gene Hugoson, commissioner of agriculture for Minnesota.

"It only seems natural that we demonstrate to our international trading community, that we both are seeking to do business with, that we have a good working relationship between the two of us," added Hugoson.

"That becomes a further demonstration of the belief in the quality of the product that we have" and shows government confidence in our food safety to consumers around the world.

Peters and Hugoson signed an "understanding" reached at the fifth annual Great Lakes Regional Forum on Agriculture calling for "a more practical, risk-based approach to establishing guidelines" for preventing and containing BSE, especially as it affects trade.

"We encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture to re-engage the rule making process with respect to . . . the importation of live animals from Canada, to facilitate the resumption of trade in cattle and other affected sectors," said the one-page memorandum.

Hugoson said he expected the U.S. border would be open to Canadian beef in stages, but stressed the importance of getting the process started as quickly as possible.

"Certainly, the beginning of those stages needs to occur."

Peters said the first step to getting cattle moving across the border again is to get the USDA to begin the process of commenting on rules regarding the importation of live animals, but he wouldn't say when that could happen.

"We need that process initiated as quickly as possible, but as far as speculating beyond that, I can't do that," he said.

Hugoson said getting the borders reopened is the best way to help restore consumer confidence in the food supply.

"Our challenge, of course, is how do we ensure the consumer we can, in fact, depend on the science and at the same time make the rational decisions so people can have confidence in government looking at this issue and taking appropriate action when necessary," he told reporters.

The agriculture ministers and commissioners are worried the economic impact of a single case of BSE in each country will spread to other sectors if the borders aren't reopened, and admit new problems such as the avian flu in Asia make it even harder to convince consumers the food chain is safe.

Representatives from the Alberta Agriculture Ministry joined the Great Lakes provinces and states as observers, but did not sign the agreement reached by the others.


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