PROVIDING FOR CONGRESSIONAL DISAPPROVAL OF THE RULE SUBMITTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE RELATING TO RISK ZONES FOR INTRODUCTION OF BOVINE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHY
Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I am voting in favor of S.J. Res. 4, which invokes the Congressional Review Act to disapprove of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's minimal risk rule. I wanted to explain to my colleagues and my constituents my reason for doing so.
I understand that the use of the Congressional Review Act is rare. Congress has successfully used it only once in 2001, and its use should not be undertaken lightly. The Congressional Review Act permitting these rule disapproval resolutions became law in 1996. Although I understand from floor debate today the President intends to veto this resolution if it reaches his desk, if the Senator from North Dakota, Mr. Conrad, were successful, the result of his actions would be to overturn the minimal risk rule and prohibit USDA from issuing another similar rule unless Congress authorizes the agency to act.
I believe adopting this rule at this time is not the right action for our Nation's consumers and our country's beef industry. As Secretary Johanns stated during his confirmation hearing, reestablishing trade to Japan and other countries is our No. 1 priority. This goal will only be achieved when we prove that we have implemented and enforced dependable BSE firewalls.
Though Canada may have taken action to eliminate some loopholes in its feed ban, and is considering additional rules to ban specialized risk materials or SRMs from animal feed, we should not open our borders until these additional firewalls are in place. And we should be doing more to ensure that our feed is not contaminated by similar loopholes in the United States.
Existing loopholes in the 1997 ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban continue to pose a risk that ruminant materials may find their way into cattle feed.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration promised to close these loopholes and stated that it had reached a preliminary conclusion last July to remove SRM from all animal feed, the agency has failed to act.
Therefore, to address this issue, I have introduced legislation entitled the Animal Feed Protection Act of 2005, S.73, which would ban SRMs from being used in any animal feed. This would eliminate the possibility that ruminant materials are knowingly or accidentally fed to cattle.
Banning SRMs from all animal feed is an important step we can take to fully ensure the safety of ruminant feed, and I hope that the Senate's vote today will encourage our Government and the Canadian Government to act more swiftly on this issue.
Some will argue that I should be convinced by the report APHIS released at the end of February stating that Canada's feed ban compliance is good. I am not convinced.
On January 24, 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, sent a team of technical experts to Canada to assess Canada's current feed ban and feed inspection program. The APHIS investigation was initiated in response to Canada's latest case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, which came just days after the USDA published its ``Minimal Risk Rule'' in the Federal Register on January 4, 2005.
The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether the control measures put in place by the Canadian Government are achieving compliance with regard to these regulations. This was a serious investigation. Canada's latest BSE case, reported on January 11, 2005, was particularly alarming because it was discovered in a cow under 7 years of age and was thus born after implementation of the 1997 ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
On January 12, 2005, I sent a letter to Secretary Veneman and then-Governor Johanns, requesting that the audit being conducted by APHIS inspectors be given time for a full and fair analysis. The final APHIS report of last week largely repeats information USDA released as part of its risk assessment supporting the minimal risk rule in January. This Senator asked for a full look, if 2 weeks of Canadian inspections yielded compelling evidence that the Canadian feed ban was being fully enforced, this report misses the mark.
I strongly believe that all consumers deserve reassurance that Canadian rendering facilities, feed mills, and ranchers are in compliance with Canada's feed regulations. As you know, the ruminant feed ban has been determined to be arguably the most important BSE risk mitigation measure to protect animal health.
The APHIS report states that ``Canada has a robust inspection program, that overall compliance with the feed ban is good and that the feed ban is reducing the risk of transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the Canadian cattle population.''
It is not clear what ``good'' compliance means. We must provide our trading partners, such as Japan and South Korea, stronger assurances than those provided in this APHIS report.
We must provide them proof that we have done everything possible to control and eradicate this deadly disease as we work to reestablish the trust of their consumers and access to their markets.
It is very important that USDA systematically evaluate all possible risks before reopening the border to Canadian cattle. I do not believe that USDA has completed this level of evaluation.
Therefore, I will be asking the National Academy of Sciences to review the APHIS findings. They should assess whether every aspect critical to evaluating feed regulations and compliance has been addressed in this report or if additional analyses and inspections are needed.
The American public must be assured that Canadian cattle will not increase the risk of BSE in the U.S. Until the American public has been assured, beyond a shadow of doubt, that the Canadians are in full compliance with feed regulations it is prudent that we delay moving forward on reopening the border until this assurance has been made.
The question of what will be best for the U.S. beef industry with respect to reopening the border to Canada is complex. And deciding how best to proceed is not an easy decision to make or an easy step to take.
Segments of the U.S. beef industry are clearly divided on this issue and not in agreement regarding what is best for the future of the U.S. beef industry. This is due in most part because this rule has affected industry segments in vastly different ways.
Although some regions of the U.S. have been hit harder than others, I know we all agree that as a nation, reestablishing the export markets and international market share that the U.S. beef industry once held, is our No. 1 priority. With that common goal in mind, we must use basic common sense and delay going forward with the implementation of this rule at this time.
Therefore, in the interest of reestablishing the trust of our trading partners and preserving the confidence of the American people, I will be voting in favor of this resolution and would urge my colleagues to do the same.