Audit finds live animal import flaws | TSLN.com

Audit finds live animal import flaws

Chris Clayton, DTN Staff Reporter

File PhotoA report shows USDA is not completely enforcing restrictions on imported livestock or tracking animals that come into the country.

OMAHA (DTN) – Despite import rules such as age restrictions on Canadian cattle, USDA does not have effective systems or controls for approving or tracking live animals that come into the country, a new report from the USDA Office of Inspector General concludes.

Staff from the Inspector General’s office stated in an audit released Tuesday that investigators found banned cattle had entered the U.S. from Canada during the past two years without any inspection from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). Once they entered the country, there was no way to track if animals went to the proper destination or were slaughtered at the right time due to their age. USDA also did not have proper accountability on the way official USDA seals are used to manage the movement of animals after inspection at ports of entry, the OIG stated.

The U.S. imports 20.4 million animals annually, of which 99.9 percent come from either Canada or Mexico. Certain livestock have restrictions, like Canadian cattle because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy cases in that country, or Mexican cattle because of tuberculosis.

The OIG found a lack of oversight in the way USDA managed Canadian cattle under 30 months old. Under what’s known as the minimal-risk rule, cattle had to be under 30 months of age when imported into the country to either be slaughtered or go directly to a feedlot and then to slaughter. Feedlot operators and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service personnel told OIG staff during the audit that they often detected cattle over the 30-month age limit. The report stated FSIS staff found “obvious cases in which the bovine appeared large and/or older.”

The 30-months-of-age threshold was set for imports of Canadian cattle because scientists believe cattle under 30 months of age are too young to have symptoms of BSE. Canada has found 13 cases of BSE since 2003.

The OIG audit comes after a federal judge ruled earlier this month that USDA did not use proper procedures when creating a new rule allowing older Canadian cattle into the country. The judge ruled USDA would have to draft a new rule but declined to block imports of Canadian cattle and beef, which the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, or R-CALF, requested.

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Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF, said the OIG report reflects many of the concerns raised by R-CALF regarding enforcement of import rules.

“We now have the opportunity to bring all of this up through the rule-making process and hopefully to impart some needed safeguards,” Bullard said.

USDA implemented a new minimal-risk rule for Canada last November that allows import of all cattle born after March 1, 2009. However, the OIG stated that “problems we found during this audit raise concerns with APHIS’ controls over live animal imports, and whether controls are adequate to ensure compliance with import restrictions or provide adequate screening and/or defense against deliberate attacks or natural disasters.” The issues over tracking restricted animals continue.

R-CALF has argued that USDA’s lack of oversight puts U.S. cattle at risk, as well as markets for U.S. beef. Bullard has expressed frustration over the fact that federal judges and inspectors general agree with R-CALF factual arguments on flaws in the system, but no progress has been made so far on tighter import restrictions at the borders.

“It goes to show just because you are right doesn’t mean you will win in the political process,” Bullard said. “This has been a long, hard-fought battle.”

Karen Eggert, a spokeswoman for USDA’s APHIS, said the agency agreed with most of the recommendations in the OIG report. Overall, though, Eggert said the OIG found a small number of isolated incidents. There is a high level of compliance with import rules such as the restrictions on Canada, she said.

“The vast majority of animals imported into the country from Canada since the establishment of the minimal-risk rule have been in accordance with our requirements,” Eggert said. “The majority of imports comply with the rule.”

Under the 30-month rule, USDA did not establish any way to track cattle to ensure importers followed the restrictions under the rule, such as making certain that imports set to go directly to slaughter actually did so. The OIG inspectors found 436 cattle that never made it to slaughter.

There were other issues of noncompliance with inspections and meatpacking plants. The OIG stated that its staff could not determine the full extent of the problem because APHIS does not have any central way of tallying noncompliance to such import restrictions.

The OIG found at least 211 Canadian cattle imported that did not have accurate health, age or identification in the health certificates used to ship the cattle. There were at least 84 pregnant imported Canadian cattle found by the OIG, something not allowed under the import restrictions. Another 105 cattle were inaccurately reported to be less than 30 months of age when they were actually older.

Inspectors questioned why APHIS could not track cattle that were expected to go directly to slaughter. APHIS management stated that they never intended to track all cattle from Canada, but expected that the Canadian brand on each animal, “CAN,” would prevent cattle from being diverted away from slaughter.

Officials at APHIS’ headquarters also told OIG staff they were not aware of the extent of problems inspectors found with the minimal-risk rule and were only made aware of a few cases.

OMAHA (DTN) – Despite import rules such as age restrictions on Canadian cattle, USDA does not have effective systems or controls for approving or tracking live animals that come into the country, a new report from the USDA Office of Inspector General concludes.

Staff from the Inspector General’s office stated in an audit released Tuesday that investigators found banned cattle had entered the U.S. from Canada during the past two years without any inspection from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). Once they entered the country, there was no way to track if animals went to the proper destination or were slaughtered at the right time due to their age. USDA also did not have proper accountability on the way official USDA seals are used to manage the movement of animals after inspection at ports of entry, the OIG stated.

The U.S. imports 20.4 million animals annually, of which 99.9 percent come from either Canada or Mexico. Certain livestock have restrictions, like Canadian cattle because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy cases in that country, or Mexican cattle because of tuberculosis.

The OIG found a lack of oversight in the way USDA managed Canadian cattle under 30 months old. Under what’s known as the minimal-risk rule, cattle had to be under 30 months of age when imported into the country to either be slaughtered or go directly to a feedlot and then to slaughter. Feedlot operators and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service personnel told OIG staff during the audit that they often detected cattle over the 30-month age limit. The report stated FSIS staff found “obvious cases in which the bovine appeared large and/or older.”

The 30-months-of-age threshold was set for imports of Canadian cattle because scientists believe cattle under 30 months of age are too young to have symptoms of BSE. Canada has found 13 cases of BSE since 2003.

The OIG audit comes after a federal judge ruled earlier this month that USDA did not use proper procedures when creating a new rule allowing older Canadian cattle into the country. The judge ruled USDA would have to draft a new rule but declined to block imports of Canadian cattle and beef, which the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, or R-CALF, requested.

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF, said the OIG report reflects many of the concerns raised by R-CALF regarding enforcement of import rules.

“We now have the opportunity to bring all of this up through the rule-making process and hopefully to impart some needed safeguards,” Bullard said.

USDA implemented a new minimal-risk rule for Canada last November that allows import of all cattle born after March 1, 2009. However, the OIG stated that “problems we found during this audit raise concerns with APHIS’ controls over live animal imports, and whether controls are adequate to ensure compliance with import restrictions or provide adequate screening and/or defense against deliberate attacks or natural disasters.” The issues over tracking restricted animals continue.

R-CALF has argued that USDA’s lack of oversight puts U.S. cattle at risk, as well as markets for U.S. beef. Bullard has expressed frustration over the fact that federal judges and inspectors general agree with R-CALF factual arguments on flaws in the system, but no progress has been made so far on tighter import restrictions at the borders.

“It goes to show just because you are right doesn’t mean you will win in the political process,” Bullard said. “This has been a long, hard-fought battle.”

Karen Eggert, a spokeswoman for USDA’s APHIS, said the agency agreed with most of the recommendations in the OIG report. Overall, though, Eggert said the OIG found a small number of isolated incidents. There is a high level of compliance with import rules such as the restrictions on Canada, she said.

“The vast majority of animals imported into the country from Canada since the establishment of the minimal-risk rule have been in accordance with our requirements,” Eggert said. “The majority of imports comply with the rule.”

Under the 30-month rule, USDA did not establish any way to track cattle to ensure importers followed the restrictions under the rule, such as making certain that imports set to go directly to slaughter actually did so. The OIG inspectors found 436 cattle that never made it to slaughter.

There were other issues of noncompliance with inspections and meatpacking plants. The OIG stated that its staff could not determine the full extent of the problem because APHIS does not have any central way of tallying noncompliance to such import restrictions.

The OIG found at least 211 Canadian cattle imported that did not have accurate health, age or identification in the health certificates used to ship the cattle. There were at least 84 pregnant imported Canadian cattle found by the OIG, something not allowed under the import restrictions. Another 105 cattle were inaccurately reported to be less than 30 months of age when they were actually older.

Inspectors questioned why APHIS could not track cattle that were expected to go directly to slaughter. APHIS management stated that they never intended to track all cattle from Canada, but expected that the Canadian brand on each animal, “CAN,” would prevent cattle from being diverted away from slaughter.

Officials at APHIS’ headquarters also told OIG staff they were not aware of the extent of problems inspectors found with the minimal-risk rule and were only made aware of a few cases.