Tighter controls, better supervision needed, ranchers say
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington cattlemen told state officials last weekend they're unhappy with the way state and federal agencies have handled the investigation into Canadian cattle brought into the state without disease testing.
They also expressed frustration that processor Agri Beef's and the rancher's import licenses had not been suspended.
Washington State Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge said the investigation is still ongoing.
Of a total of 402 head, half have tested negative and been released into a quarantined feedyard. They will remain in slaughter channels, Eldridge said. Another 93 are in testing and another 90 have to be caught, although half are gathered.
Four responded to tuberculosis testing, but were found to be negative, Eldridge said. He would not name the rancher under investigation.
In August, Agri Beef said a paperwork error resulted in the herd incorrectly being shipped to the ranch without being tested for disease. State regulations don't require the testing of cattle headed directly for a feedlot.
Laurier, Wash.-based Len McIrvin, whose operation neighbors the ranch under investigation, said more safeguards should have been in place.
"Most people will circumvent the law if they know there's no safeguards," he said. "If there's Canadian cattle coming in, someone is going to dump them out trying to get cheaper gains."
Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse said his department and the attorney general's office are investigating whether they need to tighten rules or increase enforcement of the laws already in place. Newhouse promised to get to the bottom of the investigation.
"Any law is just words on a page somewhere, people are going to do what they're going to do," he said. "We want to make sure they know what the consequences are going to be. I understand that not only my, but the department's, credibility is on the line with this issue. We understand the seriousness of it."
Cattle producer Josslinn Skidmore said cattle should be inspected for Washington health inspection requirements before they leave Canada.
Omak, Wash., producer Craig Vejraska wanted tighter control at the federal level, noting it's a "damn big deal" if he has to default on a contract because of a tuberculosis find in the state.
"These cattle can't enter our state on a willy-nilly basis without them going to some point of destination, being off-loaded and identified as those cattle that are on the permit," he said. "Right now that's not happening. We need to tighten up the ship."
Newhouse, Eldridge and Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna fielded questions about the case during the Cattle Producers of Washington annual meeting Sept. 26 in Spokane Valley, Wash.
Cattle Producers of Washington website: www.cattleproducersofwa.org.