July 15, 2011 -- On June 17, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service sent out a memo stating in part, "Effective Monday June 20, 2011 and continuing until further notice, bovines from Chihuahua, Mexico that are designated as, or believed to be rodeo animals are prohibited entry to the United States and will be refused entry by Veterinarian Services at any port. This category includes any bovines with discernable horns, and animals belonging to the Corriente and other popular rodeo breeds."
This has the leaders in the roping community crying foul because it will dramatically alter the economics of the roping industry since the cheapest?and in many opinions, best?roping cattle come from south of the border. And perhaps more significantly, these industry leaders feel the horned cattle are being singled out as a scapegoat for the Mexican-originated bovine tuberculosis problem.
About 85% of the 16,000 roping cattle imported come from the state of Chihuahua. (About 1 million feeder steers cross the border each year.) And this ruling came down after the discovery of one roping steer in Arizona infected with bovine TB. However, Lindsay Cole, Public Affairs Specialist for APHIS said that there are eight confirmed cases and four pending cases of Mexican-originated TB in feeder cattle. The problem is that the feeder cattle are still allowed to cross from Chihuahua with inspection from USDA-approved veterinarians. Horned cattle are not.
"It's political rhetoric and these Corrientes are an easy scapegoat," said Kirk Bray, president of the United States Team Roping Championships. "They're accepting feeder cattle as long as they've been TB tested by a Mexican vet on an USDA-approved list. But if Corrientes are tested by that same vet, they won't let them cross."
In addition to cutting off the flow of horned cattle, the USDA will downgrade the state of Chihuahua from Modified Accredited to Accredited Preparatory as of August 18, 2011. Effective that date, the testing standards will change for all bovines coming from Mexico into the U.S. In the meantime, the beef producers in Mexico are sending cattle across the border as fast as possible before the standards change.
"The USDA is shoving beef cattle across the border as fast as you can imagine," said Matt Sanchez, who imports about 75% of the roping cattle from Chihuahua to the major U.S. roping associations. "But to ?address the TB issue,' they've stopped crossing horned cattle. It's politically driven and the beef industry is a big industry."
"APHIS is under severe political pressure from dairy groups and state health officials to take some type of token action concerning the Mexican TB," said Denny Gentry, owner and founder of the World Series of Team Roping.
Before June 20, bovines tested by USDA/SAGARPA (the Mexican version of the USDA)-approved Mexican veterinarians with the necessary paperwork could cross the border. Feeder cattle were not retested after crossing until slaughter, but rodeo cattle were.
Since June 23, the vast amount of feeder cattle crossing will continue to play by those rules until Aug. 18. However, the horned cattle are completely banned.
"The main reason for that is we need to evaluate the risk," said Cole. "Feeder cattle have a very prescribed path from feedlot to slaughter and rodeo animals don't have that same path and they may move from state to state and co-mingle with other herds. It's not a matter of being more dangerous, it's a matter of the unknown."
Denny Gentry, for one, doesn't buy this argument and the USDA can produce no research to back up this claim.
"Back in 2002 the Texas Animal Health Commission had an epidemiologist that reasoned, ?imported feeder steers have a fairly straight path to pasture, feedlot and then to slaughter. Conversely, imported rodeo or roping steers may be used for several years for practice and events, giving them longer and more exposure to domestic cattle,'" said Gentry, "The problem with that argument is they don't know how fast ropers can go through cattle, and they never had any documentation to prove that theory. In addition, they never could quite explain why they thought exposure in adjacent pastures was less dangerous for the 99% feeder cattle, than the 1% percent roping cattle that had more stringent testing requirements."
What's more, Sanchez postulates that the TB problem is less of an issue within the Corriente cattle because of their origin. Most horned cattle are raised in small numbers in remote, arid parts of Mexico, which isn't conducive to the spread of TB.
On Aug. 18, according to Cole, the border is scheduled to re-open under Accredited Preparatory status with the following testing requirements:
Steers and spayed heifers: One negative individual animal TB test and a negative TB test on the herd of origin within the last 12 months.
Steers and spayed heifers from TB accredited-free herds: One negative individual animal TB test and proof of TB-free herd status must be available to port veterinarian at the border. (Sexually intact animals will face different testing).
Sanchez reckons this will result in a virtual shut down?if not explicit--for roping cattle. Because of the remote and dangerous locations of these small Corriente herds (sometimes five or fewer), actually testing these herds will be next to impossible. That is, if horned cattle are even allowed cross whether they meet these requirements or not. At press time, it was unclear if on August 18 "rodeo cattle" would fall back into the testable category since they are currently banned completely.
"I'm all for protecting our domestic herd supply and our food, team roping doesn't come before that, I believe," Sanchez said. "But they should test the steers in Mexico, like they do now, bring them to the border, draw blood so it's fool proof, leave them there a couple of days and if it's negative, cross them. If you want, cross them and test, quarantine them for 60 more days and test them with an American vet. If they've tested negative three times, that steer doesn't have TB."
Until Chihuahua fixes it's significant problems to address its TB status?and don't think corruption and violence on the border and elsewhere don't play a significant part in this situation?or the USDA announces the new policies for entry in the U.S., some think that domestic ropers will have to deal with roping cattle longer, expect less-than-fresh steers and higher cattle fees.
Counter that with domestic Corriente producers' efforts to take over the supply of roping cattle.
"That is an issue that NACA has paid very close attention to over the years," said Ron Long president of the North American Corriente Association. "Do we have the numbers to fill all the roping animals? NACA alone is not there. Would we love to be there? Yes, we would and I'm sure people breeding replacement heifers will change in accordance with what's going on."
While this issue is significant and complicated, the top roping associations have been preparing for its possibility since as early as 2002, and have contingency plans in place if Mexican cattle are not available.
"It would be silly to get dramatic concerning the potential long term shut down of Mexican rodeo cattle for our recreational enjoyment," Gentry said. "We have native Corrientes, Longhorns, Shorthorns, Watusis, Highlanders, muleys and plastics at our disposal. I know one thing, American ropers are not going to stop roping because of any Mexican policy." SWR