HARRISBURG, Pa. – U.S. cattle producers received grim tidings two days before Christmas 2003: A case of mad cow disease surfaced in Washington state.
The news rocked the domestic cattle market, and triggered other countries to close their borders to live cattle imports.
“It’s been a tough year,” said Ken Raney, executive director of the Pa. Holstein Association, which maintains a USDA-approved cattle quarantine facility at its farm in Middletown, Pa.
“A lot of people are hurting because of the closed border.”
In 2003, the association moved 3,300 head through the facility and was preparing to send 1,500 head to China between January and April 2004.
“The day they announced mad cow disease was found in Washington, everything stopped,” Raney said.
Twelve months later, most export doors are still closed, but Cuba opened its borders a crack last week and will import 200 Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle, predominantly from Pennsylvania, in January.
The cattle, selected by Cuban and U.S. representatives last week, will be shipped from the Holstein association’s export facility.
This is the first live cattle shipment made from the United States since bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, was found last December.
Back for more. The Cuban trade delegation returned to the Northeast for more cattle after buying an earlier shipment from the region, Raney said.
“They were here a year ago and liked what they bought,” he said.
The deal could lead to other shipments of up to 100,000 head of dairy and beef cattle over the next two years, he added.
Pa. Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff led a agricultural products trade mission to Cuba in April and discussed dairy genetics “in detail” with President Fidel Castro, according to the state ag department.
Who’s next? Raney is hoping more countries put politics aside and follow Cuba’s lead.
“We really need to push that we’re BSE-free,” he said. “The science says we are.”
“A lot of countries want U.S. genetics,” Raney said. Most of the association’s shipments are for breeding age heifers or bred heifers.
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