ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Farm Bureau has tabled plans to seek an exception to the federal ban on Canadian cattle imports, but the head of the group said Monday it's not because a second case of mad cow disease has been confirmed in that country.
It's because U.S. officials said they're standing by a decision to renew Canadian beef imports in March despite the discovery of the infected dairy cow last week. Only young cattle will be allowed to be brought over for slaughter, under the plan announced last week.
"We're going to wait and see what happens," said Jane Hamilton, the farm bureau's executive director. "We're hopeful that when the border is opened for the young animals that it will open soon for the breeding animals."
Alaska beef and dairy farmers had been looking for a temporary way to replenish their dwindling stocks with a few hundred Canadian cattle. There aren't enough bulls in Alaska to replenish herds without outside help.
Canada was the state's traditional replacement source until the ban was issued by the U.S. government in May 2003 after Canadian officials discovered a case of the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Fears intensified after BSE was found in a Canadian-born Holstein in Washington state that December.
Some farm groups outside Alaska are wary of resuming trade after Canadian officials said Sunday that an 8-year-old dairy cow in Alberta tested positive for the brain-wasting disease. It was the second infected dairy cow found since May 2003.
But Hamilton and Alaska state veterinarian Bob Gerlach said they consider Canadian beef safe because of procedures in place to keep potentially infected cows out of the food chain. Also, both cows determined to have the disease were born before a 1997 feed ban was imposed.
The cattle that will be allowed over the Canadian border must be slaughtered by the age of 30 months, and they must be transported in sealed containers to a feedlot or slaughter house.
"I think with the regulations in effect there is little to essentially zero risk of any type of health problem from eating Canadian beef," Gerlach said. "I wouldn't expect any of the young animals come up positive."
To further assure Alaskans that their food is safe, the state is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an animal monitoring and identification system, Gerlach said. It would track domestic and imported livestock across Alaska throughout the animals' life spans so that the source and location of future problems could be identified.
The system is in the very early stages of development and Gerlach said he hopes to see it in place by mid 2006.