April 14, 2007

Another example of the USDA gone mad

The fact that APHIS has made statements regarding the insignificance of improper documentation accompanying imported Canadian cattle while holding Darrol Dickinson to another standard just proves to me that USDA and APHIS are being run by very bad people who don't know what their right or left hands are doing. And just that alone should cause everyone to demand that USDA/APHIS be investigated.

R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America

For Immediate Release Contact: Shae Dodson, Communications Coordinator

April 13, 2007 Phone: 406-672-8969;
e-mail: sdodson@r-calfusa.com

Group Questions USDA Enforcement Actions

Billings, Mont. – R-CALF USA is seeking information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on why it appears that agency officials describe incomplete paperwork on perhaps hundreds of imported Canadian cattle as “minor record-keeping problems,” yet initiate enforcement action against a U.S. cattle producer, claiming animals were transported in interstate commerce without a valid health certificate.

The U.S. producer in question is Darol Dickinson, owner of Dickinson Cattle Co. in Barnesville, Ohio. The event in question is the transport of a 6-year-old Texas Longhorn cow and a bull calf from Oklahoma to Ohio in January 2006. The veterinary health certificate – issued by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture – states the identity of the pair as “Rosey Bark-B” and “Bull Calf at side” on the form under “EARTAG NO. OR OTHER OFFICIAL IDENTIFICATION, NAME OR DESCRIPTION.’

USDA correspondence to Dickinson dated Feb. 26, 2007, from the Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) branch of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) states that Dickinson transported the pair without a valid health certificate because “the consignee portion of the health certificate was incomplete and no official identification was listed for the cow.” The IES correspondence instructs Dickinson that he can waive his right to a hearing and settle the matter by paying a $1,250 penalty by March 26, 2007. If Dickinson does not request a hearing or pay the fine by said date, the IES letter states that litigation will result, and furthermore, “…The penalty offered in this Stipulation is not relevant to the sanctions APHIS may seek, or that will be assessed after issuance of a formal complaint…”

Dickinson maintains that all charges are false for the following reasons:

1) The animals were transported with an official Oklahoma State Health Certificate of Inspection prepared and signed by a USDA-licensed Oklahoma State Veterinarian.

2) Information for the Consignee portion of the health certificate was indeed complete for a resident of a small rural village.

3) All official identification for the cow was provided exactly as required by the printed form issued by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

4) He relied on the USDA-licensed professional to properly execute the government form in its entirety.

5) The truck driver who transported the animals stopped at every port-of-entry crossing in every state required by law during the legal transport of these cattle.

6) The truck driver is not a USDA-licensed professional, and therefore, unable to evaluate the official veterinary health certificate for errors.

“Apparently, USDA doesn’t think the veterinarian who filled out the health certificate for these animals did so in a way USDA considers to be correct,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the R-CALF USA Animal Health Committee. “We have written a letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns protesting that fine, particularly drawing attention to USDA’s comment that all the cattle coming in from Canada without proper paperwork was a simple, minor paperwork infraction.”

R-CALF USA sent the letter to Johanns on March 23, 2007, requesting that the fine immediately be rescinded. Only today did USDA confirm to R-CALF USA that an investigation is ongoing and that the results will be forthcoming in the near future.

“USDA’s citation against Dickinson Cattle Company appears to be discriminatory, based on recent statements to the media by APHIS officials regarding the insignificance of improper documentation accompanying imported Canadian cattle,” Thornsberry continued. “It appears APHIS is holding Dickinson Cattle Company to a much higher standard than it holds individuals or entities that authorize the transport of imported Canadian cattle, and this is patently wrong.”

On Feb. 23, 2007, the Chicago Tribune published an article by Washington Bureau Reporter Steve Hedges, with the headline “USDA: Mistakes tracing Canadian cattle are ‘minor’”. The piece quoted APHIS spokesperson Andrea McNally as characterising problems with the documentation of imported Canadian cattle as only “minor record-keeping problems.”

“If that’s USDA’s position, then the citation issued to Dickinson for transporting U.S. cattle within the United States is wholly unjustified and discriminatory,” Thornsberry asserted. “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, Dickinson’s documentation was in substantial compliance, if not complete compliance, with APHIS rules and regulations. R-CALF USA is requesting that USDA take steps to ensure that U.S. cattle producers are not discriminated against by being held to a higher standard than that imposed on individuals or entities handling imported cattle.

“This heavy-handed USDA enforcement action focuses only on whether an animal identification number was included in the documentation – it had nothing to do with the health of the animals in question,” Thornsberry concluded. “R-CALF USA is concerned that this situation may be indicative of the control USDA intends to exercise over U.S. cattle producers under it proposed National Animal Identification System. If this is the case, then the U.S. cattle industry would be subjected to an unacceptable level of regulatory control by USDA.”

Note: To view R-CALF USA’s letter, the veterinary health certificate, USDA’s correspondence to Dickinson and other supporting documents, visit the “Animal Health” link at www.r-calfusa.com.

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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization and is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on both domestic and international trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA has more than 60 affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.

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