The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today a final rule that will complete efforts to modernize the Agency’s import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). However, the cattle industry is mixed on its support.
APHIS said the rule demonstrates to the international community that the United States is committed to basing its BSE regulations on internationally-accepted scientific literature and standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The final regulation will allow for the safe trade of bovines and bovine products, while still protecting the United States from the introduction of BSE.
“This action will bring our BSE import regulations in line with international standards, which call for countries to base their trade policies on the actual risk of animals or products harboring the disease,” said Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer. “Making these changes will further demonstrate to our trading partners our commitment to international standards and sound science, and we are hopeful it will help open new markets and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products.”
It is important to note that control of imports is only one of several interlocking safeguards against BSE. This regulation does not change other measures that are currently in place in the United States. For animal health, these measures include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban. A robust BSE surveillance program monitors the health of the U.S. cattle population. Human health is protected by measures that ensure the safety of U.S. beef, the most important of which is the ban on cattle materials that have been shown to carry the BSE agent (known as specified risk materials) from the food supply. In recognition of the strength of these measures in the United States, the OIE upgraded the U.S. risk classification for BSE to negligible risk in May 2013.
When this rule takes effect, APHIS will use the same criteria and categories that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) uses to identify a country’s BSE risk status. APHIS will base its import policy for a particular country on that country’s risk classification as determined by OIE’s risk evaluation. The rule also allows APHIS to conduct its own assessment when deemed necessary, such as when a country is not yet classified by the OIE for BSE risk and requests that APHIS conduct a risk evaluation using criteria equivalent to that used by OIE.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said the effort is crucial to breaking down other countries’ unfounded trade barriers, and re-opening trade markets that are closed to U.S. beef. Stabenow has been part of a bipartisan coalition of Senators urging the Office of Management and Budget and USDA to take action on this issue.
"American agriculture has long set the gold standard for food production and safety. Today’s actions will ensure U.S. beef producers can operate on a more level playing field and help grow our agriculture economy," she noted.
“The basis of these import regulations, set on internationally-accepted science and the OIE guidelines, is critical in showing that the U.S. is committed to ensuring trade, unfettered by protectionist motivations, and sends a clear message to our trading partners of the value we place on fair trade,” said Scott George, National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. president and Cody, Wyo.
“This is great news for the U.S. cattle industry and integral to our efforts to further international trade,” George added. “With these import regulations set, I am confident we will be able to expand our market access and meet international demand for high quality U.S. beef. We greatly appreciate the work of USDA Secretary Vilsack and the entire team at USDA/APHIS.”
R-CALF USA said the rule opens the door for U.S. meatpackers to begin supplementing U.S. beef supplies with European beef which has reported four new BSE cases in 2013. The statement from R-CALF went on to state that 83 new cases of BSE have been identified in the European Union since 2010.