Truckloads of Canadian cattle could begin rolling into the United States next week after a federal appeals court's ruling lifting a ban on the animals, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said yesterday.

"Our hope is that we're talking about days and not weeks," Johanns, on a trade mission in Madagascar, told reporters on a telephone call.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Thursday unanimously overturned a Montana judge who had kept the border closed, saying in his ruling that the U.S. beef industry faced "potentially catastrophic damages" and that American consumers faced "a genuine risk of death."

The United States banned Canadian cattle in May 2003 after Canada discovered its first case of mad cow disease. The USDA was about to reopen the border in March when U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull granted a request from ranchers to keep it closed.

Johanns said procedural and paperwork requirements are the only thing standing in the way of reopening the border

In a hearing Wednesday in Seattle, Justice Department lawyer Mark Stern had urged the appeals court to reopen the border, saying it would not result in the "infestation in American livestock."

The three judges suggested that Cebull perhaps should have given deference to the USDA's decision.