Bush looks to fully open border to Canadian beef

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Cows older than 30 months soon may be rolling back across the border. Bush administration officials said they plan on lifting the remaining trade restrictions on Canadian cattle, including older cows and breeding stock. A notice was to be published in today’s Federal Register.

The United States first closed the border to all Canadian cattle for two years when an Alberta cow was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy in May 2003. The United States then lifted the ban in July 2005 for animals under 30 months of age after winning a court battle with American protectionist groups.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it hopes to lift the remaining import restrictions. However, subsequent Mad Cow cases in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, as well as ongoing disputes with anti-trade groups such as R-CALF USA — which claims older cows present a greater risk of Mad Cow — have delayed such a ruling.

Canadian cattle farmers, feedlots and livestock trucking companies have been suffering for the last three years as the herd north of the border has swelled since 2003 — although the number has been falling slowly since the ban was relaxed last year. The U.S. imports about 12 percent of its beef; in 2005, Canada accounted for nearly a quarter of those imports.

The USDA plan will go through 60 days of public comment until March 1.