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OTM rule is potential 'train wreck'

MENOKEN, N.D. - USDA recently published its Over Thirty Months of Age rule to let up to 8-year-old cows into this country beginning Nov. 19. We think this is an irresponsible move on their part.

MENOKEN, N.D. - USDA recently published its Over Thirty Months of Age rule to let up to 8-year-old cows into this country beginning Nov. 19. We think this is an irresponsible move on their part.

Port veterinarians are not going to be able to distinguish the difference between an 8-year-old or a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old animal just by looking at them through the side of a semi truck or even unloading and mouthing them. Likewise, inspectors at slaughter plants won't be able to tell the difference either.

Documentation provided by Canadian producers and Canadian veterinarians likely will have to be accepted by U.S. Department of Agriculture-Animal Plant Health Inspection Services employees as the only means of age verification on OTM cattle coming into the United States.

The last of Canada's 12 cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was detected in a cow that was born in 2002, so it makes absolutely no sense to allow any cow born before this date to enter the United States.

USDA-APHIS admits that U.S. export markets were totally devastated with the finding of the Canadian born BSE cow in the state of Washington in 2003. USDA also admits that at least 19 more cases of BSE could be detected in older, higher-risk Canadian cattle imports.

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Centers for Disease Control estimates that the Canadian cattle herd is up to 26 times more likely to have a BSE case than cattle of U.S. origin. Japan and other U.S. export markets have made it clear that they would accept U.S. age- and source-verified beef. When the first Canadian cow tests positive for BSE, on U.S. soil, we will lose any foreign export market that we have regained.

This really is a win-win situation for Canada. It will consume its young - and less BSE-risk-associated - beef and export some product overseas, while U.S. consumers will be expected to accept their older, higher-risk beef without always knowing the source of that beef. Producers as well as consumers should be upset with USDA and Congress for allowing this disparity to continue.

USDA had listening sessions around the country, but USDA officials forgot to listen. They seem intentionally oblivious to the percentage of comments that were opposed to further opening the border to the higher risk OTM cattle at this time.

Consumers are supposed to trust that all animals with BSE will be identified and removed from the food supply system. Until we have a good live animal test for BSE, this can't be verified. Every Canadian animal slaughtered in the U.S. will not be tested for BSE at slaughter.

Once the border is open to cattle potentially infected with BSE and mixed with our cattle, it may be impossible to adequately identify them and send them back. If the Canadian cows are not properly identified and the identification maintained through the slaughtering process, the United States very likely will unduly get credit for more Canadian BSE-positive animals.

USDA is expected to enact country-of-origin labeling in September. The first order of business should be to implement COOL before letting these higher-risk Canadian cattle into the United States.

When it comes to the U.S. livestock industry and our nation's food supply, we're expected to rely on USDA's questionable "sound" science over good business practices. We are asking our senators and congressmen to demand that USDA do the right thing in preventing a potential train wreck before Nov. 19. Kenny Graner

Editor's Note: Graner is director of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota.

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Reform needed in livestock marketing practicesMARQUETTE, Kan. - The Senate Ag Committee is on the right track with the recently approved mark for the farm bill. While the House version of the bill improves country-of-origin labeling and interstate meat inspection standards, the Senate Ag Committee goes a step further and recognizes the need for reform in livestock marketing practices.

Included in the committee mark are items to help ensure that efficient livestock producers have an opportunity to access markets. Country-of-origin labeling lets consumers decide if they care where their meat comes from, just like they can make that decision about their clothes and cars. Interstate meat inspection will allow small processors access to a larger market with similar oversight that our government uses to approve foreign processors.

Significantly, however, this "mark" also restricts packer ownership of cattle. This restriction recognizes that forces other than operating efficiencies are at work in the marketplace. Continuing instances of the few and large beef processors to effectively not participate in the negotiated market for a week or two at a time in the midst of a price break illustrate the significance of packer-owned and controlled cattle.

While the committee mark addresses the ownership aspect of packer control, it fails to address the broader implications of selective marketing agreements. These agreements give the packer more leverage than that gained by the cattle they actually own. While critics condemn actions against these agreements as moves against quality improvement and progress, they fail to recognize that the largest marketing agreements today have nothing to do with quality; their purpose always has been to secure quantity.

Still needed, however, are the Captive Supply Reform Act and amendments to clarify P&S rules regarding "business justification" and "competitive injury" provisions. All proposed legislation recognizes (as has current law for the last 80 years) that there are "reasonable" differences in price for different products. The proposed changes will not impact efforts to meet consumer demand, they will, however, properly referee the marketplace.

A livestock title has the potential to address another intended aspect of the farm bill, that of rural development. As legislators spend money and seek ways to stimulate rural economies, perhaps they can see the potential value of fulfilling government's role to maintain competition in the marketplace. That value is seen when more efficient producers are left in business to sustain more communities and keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive in rural America.

While that line of government control vs. personal freedom is hard to walk, it is certainly worth the effort to keep America the "land of opportunity" and not merely a land of "survival of the fittest" where a person always needs a bigger stick to survive. Allan Sents

Editor's Note: Sents is U.S. Cattlemen's Association director for Region VIII.

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Look for solutions now to water shortage issues KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The National Weather Service labels it "exceptional," but in Tennessee plain-speak, it's a bad drought.

The drought should be considered a wake-up call for all of us accustomed to water on demand. Water, that life-giving resource that has seemed limitless, especially in the South, is becoming scarce in some areas. Area residents are worried about their wells and springs going dry. Farmers are facing losses statewide of $500 million to $750 million in a $2.5 billion industry.

It's so bad in Georgia, there's a water crisis in metro Atlanta. "And it is the biggest and most imminent economic threat to our region," says Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Georgia isn't the only place talking about limiting water use.

Residents in some of our surrounding counties are facing situations in which the bodies of water that supply their communities are going dry. Farmers and other rural residents are worried about their wells and springs drying up. Lake levels have fallen drastically.

We need to put the drought and the resulting water shortage into perspective. Conservation would be a good lesson to draw from our present difficulties, but there appears to be no initiative for it except in areas directly affected by the shortages.

Perhaps now is the time to start talking about the issue - both in general terms and specific terms - before conditions get even worse. Let's not wait until we're facing mandatory restrictions on personal water use. The Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel

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