Rancher backs beef ban

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Correspondent

Mary Nordtome said she can look out her kitchen window and see for miles. She and her husband single handily operate a 22,000-acre ranch in Fort Sumner and have been in the ranching industry for more than 50 years.

When she talks about the industry she has built her life around, her tone turns to one of passion.

“Ranchers are proud people who just want their fair shake at making a living,” Nordtome said. “Ranchers around here still ride on horseback. They still brand their own cattle. If a cow gets sick, they take care of it.”

Nordtome applauded Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Senate to overturn the Bush administration’s decision to lift a ban on Canadian beef scheduled for Monday. The ban was imposed on Canadian cattle nearly two years ago because of fears over mad cow disease.

Since then the Canadian cattle industry has suffered more than $7 billion dollars in losses.

Nordtome said she has no sympathy for ranchers in Canada suffering from the effects of the ban.

“The public needs to be made aware that as long as the ban is held in place we don’t have to worry about America being a dumping ground for tainted beef,” Nordtome said. “I used to have a ranch in Montana and I watched truckloads, hundreds of thousands of cattle being brought into the U.S. from Canada.

“Until Canada has the same rules and regulations for raising cattle as we do here in the U.S., we should not open our borders.”

A state representative from Roswell introduced a joint motion Thursday in the New Mexico House of Representatives which seeks support for keeping Canadian beef imports out of the United States. If approved, the New Mexico Legislature will request that the state’s congressional delegation oppose any efforts to reverse current policy and accept Canadian beef imports.

“We believe that keeping the ban in place is extremely important for keeping American cattle, and subsequently, the American people, protected from Mad Cow Disease,” said Caren Cowen, executive director for the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. “We have worked well in the past with this Administration so we are hopeful that the Department will reconsider its intent to change the policy.”

Some ranchers in western Canada believe the decision by a U.S. federal judge to indefinitely block the resumption of their cattle crossing back into the United States is another example of American protectionism as well as botched politics by their own leaders.

Danny Rosehill of the Olds Auction Mart in Calgary said U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull’s ruling Wednesday was not only biased in favor of cattlemen in Montana, but indicative of the increasingly testy relations between the world’s largest trading partners.

Canada declined to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then, last week, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Ottawa would opt out of Washington’s proposed continental missile shield. The White House was so peeved, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to Ottawa.

“Why would the United States want to play ball with us? They come to us with hat in hand, asking for support on the war, and we say no,” Rosehill said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “They come to us with hat in hand on this missile thing, and we say no.”

Nordtome disagreed that Canadian cow ban is about U.S. nationalism. She said it isn’t about war politics, or maintaining record-level beef prices in big-beef states like Montana, it is about pride in a product.

The rancher’s view, Nordtome assured, can be found in the din of raised voices at a sales barn on a Saturday in Clovis; it is written on Nordtome’s face as she looks out over the land she tends, the many fences she built with her hands, the many calves she helped birth.

“We are proud of good quality beef and knowing it is safe for people to eat,” Nordtome said. “If President Bush vetoes the Canada cow ban, it will cause a lot of problems.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.