Legislation would give shorter time line, give WSDA greater authority

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA -- Cattleman Willard Wolf has a question for those who would call it "protectionism" to increase inspections of cattle coming across the U.S.-Canada border.

"Have you flown in a plane recently?" he said. "Those searches designed to keep us safer -- do you call that protectionism? Increasing the safety of cattle coming into our country protects our economy, our industry, our citizens."

Wolf, a cattle broker and rancher in Eastern Washington, was discussing legislation being considered by the Washington state Legislature. Senate Bill 6299 is designed to increase protection of U.S. livestock from disease by modifying delivery restrictions on imported animals.

Speaking to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Economic Development on Jan. 19, Wolf said the legislation would "fill a huge gap" in animal health security in the U.S.

That gap became obvious last May, said Wade King, president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, when more than 400 Canadian cattle destined for a Moses Lake feedlot were mistakenly trucked to rangeland near North Port, where they may have commingled with domestic herds.

The imported animals had not been tested for bovine tuberculosis, which could devastate the Washington cattle industry, he said.

Current law makes it illegal to bring animals into the state without an official health certificate or a certificate of veterinary inspection. Certain animals are exempt from this requirement, including livestock destined for immediate slaughter. Those animals cannot be diverted en route -- as those 400-plus cattle were -- nor can they be sold for a purpose other than slaughter.

SB6299 would require that animals be delivered to an approved, inspected feedlot or to a federally inspected slaughter facility within 12 hours of entry. Current law requires delivery within three days.

The bill also gives the Washington State Department of Agriculture authority to enter property to investigate whether livestock has been imported in violation of requirements or are destined for slaughter or for an approved feedlot.

"We have insufficient border inspections," King said. "This bill gives WSDA authority after cattle have left the border area. ... The department needs to verify that cattle reach their destination."

The bill requires that WSDA charge time and mileage fees for livestock and records inspections during investigations. The initial fee would be $85 per hour, and the mileage rate would be determined by the state Office of Financial Management.

Leonard Eldridge, the state veterinarian, described another aspect of the bill, which deletes current law allowing self-inspection of cattle for private transactions of fewer than 25 head of cattle.

The cattle industry has requested closer monitoring of cattle movement, he said. "We need to locate cattle and ensure ownership accountability. We need to know that cattle meet Washington health requirements."

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, asked Eldridge how the new system would work.

WSDA brand inspectors would follow up with the individuals, Eldridge said. "That would be less costly than verifying questionable documents later."

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