Hawai`i beef caught in 'mad cow' crossfire

Beef exports from Hawai`i may become the latest casualty in the international battle over the emergence of mad cow disease in the U.S. A major shipment of beef from Big Island ranches to the U.S. mainland may be jeopardized by “international gyrations” that require it to be channeled through Canada first, according to Rep. Ed Case. “There was no alternative for getting the shipment to market other than to land in Canada… under existing quarantine and other protocols,” Case wrote in a letter to Michael Kergin, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Canada has instituted a partial ban on the importation of American beef.

“The consequences of refusal of this shipment by Canada would be highly harmful to the Hawaii cattle industry,” Case wrote.

In addition to the Canadian ban, restrictions on importing Canadian beef on the U.S. side are also a concern. Case said he has already contacted officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the cattle, if accepted in Canada, will be able to subsequently enter the U.S.

“Due to restrictions imposed by U.S. maritime law and other reasons, the ranchers of Hawaii have long shipped their feeder cattle to Canada (Vancouver) on foreign-flag cattle boats,” Case explained. “These cattle are then transshipped by land to the United States under existing quarantine and other protocols.

“This arrangement has benefited Canada,” he added.

Case also noted that Hawai`i cattle may already be exempt under the Canadian ban, since the island cattle are all calves younger than 12 months of age. The ban applies to meat from cattle over 30 months of age, processed meats or breeding stock.

Specifically, Case proposed a protocol that would ensure Canada’s concerns are addressed. After the cattle arrives in British Columbia, he explained, it could be held in an approved feedlot in quarantine, and then be transferred across the Canadian border into the U.S. in a matter of weeks.

Case largely faulted the 1920 Jones Act, which prohibits direct cattle shipments between U.S. ports by foreign flag vessels, saying there’s no reason why the government couldn’t “just allow the ranchers to ship their cattle directly to U.S. ports of their choice like Stockton, CA on vessels of their choice.”

“I couldn’t have invented a more perfect example of how the Jones Act hinders Hawaii exports,” he said, noting that he will push for an exemption in the 2004 legislative sesson.

The shipment in question was to depart Kawaihae today and arrive in Vancouver on Jan. 8.

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