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REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY By Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns At the U.S. Department of Agriculture BSE Roundtable at The University of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 9, 2005
Thank you, Governor [Tim Pawlenty], for that very kind introduction and thanks to the University of Minnesota for hosting us today.
It's good to be back in Minnesota.
We are here today to lay some facts on the table about the safety of beef.
Communication is a vital part of my job as Secretary of Agriculture.
I believe very strongly that government must be transparent and responsive.
That means listening to opinions that may differ from my own and respecting them even when we disagree.
It also means getting information out to the citizens we serve.
I take that responsibility very seriously and that's why we're here.
Since a single cow with BSE was discovered in the state of Washington a year and a half ago, a lot of information has reached the public and, unfortunately, some mis-information as well.
In our busy world, no one has time to piece together all the bits of information to have the complete facts in front of them.
So today we will lay it all out, the entire case.
And we will provide evidence in two areas.
One: The safety of American and Canadian cattle and beef.
Two: The significant changes in the infrastructure of the industry.
Every day that the Canadian border remains closed, American producers and processors are impacted.
And, the longer the border remains closed, the more extensive the changes to the industry structure and the more likely it is that the resulting economic damages in the U.S. will be permanent.
To discuss these issues, we have brought together a panel of producer and industry representatives and experts, both from inside and outside the government.
Not all agree on everything but I think we can all agree on the importance of getting the facts on the table.
Let's start with the issue of safety.
Protecting the consumer is and must always be our absolute highest priority.
And I can tell you, right now, with the BSE safeguards in place, American and Canadian beef and beef products are safe for consumption.
As you know, since the discovery of that single cow in 2003, we have dramatically upgraded our safety system here in the United States, including a ban on specified risk materials.
Also since that time, our enhanced surveillance program has tested more than 375-thousand cattle in the highest risk populations and no new cases have been found.
That includes non-ambulatory, or downer animals, and animals exhibiting signs of a central nervous system disorder.
The reality is this: there is no BSE "outbreak" in the Unites States, and there never was.
With that said, let me add that we will continue to upgrade our defenses, because we must always be vigilant.
We will continue to study the science of BSE, because the more we know about it, the more we can do to prevent any real risk from materializing.
But we know that American beef is safe.
We also know that Canada's feed ban is equivalent to our own.
We confirmed it with our own eyes when a USDA team traveled to Canada and spent significant time studying the Canadian system.
We know that opening the border conforms to OIE guidelines.
In other words, we know that the scientific approach we are taking with the Canadian minimal-risk rule mirrors our own safety standards.
The approach we want to take with Canada is no different from the approach we are asking other international trading partners to take with us.
We ask that once the safety of the product has been confirmed, trade be allowed to resume, the same request we have received from Canada.
We have confirmed that Canada's safeguards are effective and Canadian beef is safe.
This is not guesswork, it's not magic, and it's not politics.
And this morning's presenters will explain this in detail.
Which brings me to the impact of the closed borders on the industry.
When we look at the big picture we see that some progress has been made.
In December 2003, borders closed to 64 percent of U.S. beef exports.
Today, we have recovered well over a third of that, having recently announced the reopening of Taiwan, Egypt, and Oman to our beef.
But with 41 percent remaining closed, there is more work to be done.
That equates to about $3 billion worth.
Japan alone represents nearly half of the market that remains closed.
Reopening that market remains a very high priority.
But it is difficult to ask Japan to treat us in one way while we effectively are treating Canada in another way.
It is difficult to insist that Japan make decisions based on science when we are not applying the same standards to our treatment of Canada.
We tell Japan our beef is safe, which it is, and we become impatient when they won't open their borders.
Yet, we have not opened our borders to Canadian beef.
The double standard is hurting us and in more than the lost Japanese and Korean markets.
Right now, today, as we speak, Canada is expanding its capacity.
My counterpart in Canada, Ag Minister Andy Mitchell, has said his first choice, by far, would be to resume trade with the U.S.
However, because that is not happening, he has made it very clear that Canada will pursue other means of supporting its beef industry.
In fact, allow me to share his exact words: He said Canada is undertaking," an aggressive marketing campaign to reclaim and expand markets for Canadian beef."
He also spoke of a strategy to increase Canada's capacity to process beef through financial incentives and other means.
They are succeeding.
The number of cattle processed in Canada rose dramatically in 2004 and the number continues to increase this year.
We'll hear more about that this afternoon.
The simple truth is that every day that the border remains closed, the industry continues to restructure.
Every day, American processors lose business.
Every day, we move further down the path toward permanent job losses as packers and processors close down plants impacted by unsustainable losses.
And every day, ranchers are hit with higher transportation costs to ship their cattle to distant markets.
Not too long ago, a gentleman by the name of Monty Weston, from Utah, came to D.C. with some other producers.
He urged me to do everything I could to re-open the border to Canadian beef because with it closed, he is worried about his future.
He is forced to ship cattle to other states and the cost of shipping is making it difficult to turn a profit.
He is not alone.
Last month, I visited the EA Miller Processing plant in Hyrum, Utah.
There, 66 workers have been let go and the number of cattle processed has dropped 20-percent.
I am hearing similar stories from across the country.
The fact is that producers and processors are struggling right now, today, as we stand here, because while we are closed to Canadian beef they are very much open to the migration of American processors.
I want to point out that I am in no way critical of Canada for having a pro-growth attitude.
Canadian officials have made it very clear that they would prefer to work with us as trading partners than to compete with us by encouraging American businesses to migrate.
But, they, too, must face economic realities.
For them, the reality is that because they are unable to export their cattle and beef to the United States, they must try to import processing and work to compete against us in other markets.
They are working aggressively to do so and they are succeeding.
I will not sit back and silently watch as a way of life in rural America migrates to become the lifeblood of another country.
I have a responsibility to be an advocate for the "little guy" and right now the "little guy" is in serious trouble.
So, we are here today to allow our participants, those of you in the audience, and folks nationwide who are concerned about this industry to put the facts together about the safety of beef and the changes in the industry.
We are here to show that opening both the Japanese and the Canadian borders is absolutely safe and absolutely necessary for the health of our beef industry.
And most of all, we are here for the 'little guys' like Monty, who are hardest hit by the closed borders.
I welcome the opportunity to have an open discussion today.
And, I welcome the opportunity to present - clearly and concisely - the science behind the safety of American and Canadian beef and the urgency behind the need to act to protect an industry and an American way of life.
Thank you all for being here and special thanks to those of you who agreed to participate in the discussion.