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July 14, 2005   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
July 14, 2005

USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawks speaks to Federation members attending the Commodity Producers Conference.
COLUMBUS, Ga.-- Farmers attending the Alabama Farmers Federation's 33rd Annual Commodity Producers Conference July 14 in Columbus, Ga., were among the first in the country to hear that a federal appeals court had overturned a ban on imports of Canadian cattle. U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Hawks relayed the news to the farmers during his keynote address at the conference Thursday evening.

The imports were banned in May 2003 after a cow in Alberta, Canada was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The unanimous decision Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a Montana judge who blocked the USDA from reopening the border in March. The decision came a day after the U.S. Justice Department urged the appeals court in Seattle to reopen the border to imports.

Hawks, a former Mississippi farmer, serves as undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. In addressing the group of more than 600 Alabama farmers, he emphasized that America's food supply is safe, noting that spending on food safety has increased dramatically under the Bush administration.

According to Hawks, about 400,000 high-risk animals have been tested for BSE since the USDA implemented new testing procedures, with only one confirmed case of BSE. That cow was born before stricter feeding regulations were adopted for beef cattle in the United States, and it was never remotely near the human food chain.

"I hope you ate your steak tonight without any concern," Hawks told the Federation gathering. "That risk (of BSE) is so minimal, it's not something we should worry about."

Hawks went on to say that USDA is making progress in implementing the National Animal Identification program. Forty-nine states are now capable of registering animal premises under the new identification system, he said.

Meanwhile, Hawks praised a recent Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the producer-funded beef checkoff program. He also said that the United States should continue to pursue "fair" trade, but noted that countries should not use health standards to restrict trade unless they are based on sound science.

"We need to put some sanity back into sanitary and phytosanitary trade issues," Hawks said.

Prior to Hawks' address, Ozark, Ala., artist Jack Deloney and Federation President Jerry A. Newby unveiled a painting commissioned for the Federation titled "Harvest at Home." On Friday, the Commodity Conference participants will tour farm operations in east Alabama, and on Saturday, they will attend seminars on topics ranging from invasive plants species and National Animal Identification to international trade and women in agriculture.

The Alabama Farmers Federation, the state's largest farm organization, represents 16 commodity divisions and has 464,000 members throughout Alabama.

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