The U.S. government has raised its import regulations regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as “mad cow” disease, to international standards, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The new guideline will become law 90 days after being published in the Federal Register
Last week, the agency finalized a rule, first proposed in March, which uses the World Organization for Animal Health’s (OIE) categories to determine the risk factors of imported products. When importing, regulators will look at a country’s risk rating for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) while also being able to conduct a separate evaluation, if needed.
The agency’s Dr. John Clifford said the international standards “call for countries to base their trade policies on the actual risk of animals or products” that might be carrying the disease.\
“Making these changes will further demonstrate to our trading partners our commitment to international standards and sound science,” he continued, “and we are hopeful it will help open new markets and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products.”
The OIE has classified U.S. exports as “negligible risk” since May due to the several safeguards put in place to make sure infected products aren’t exported, but some nations have strict rules against shipments from the U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, said the rule change will also allow U.S. officials to press for trade to countries that have stopped accepting U.S. beef. For example, Mexico has not imported U.S. cows older than 30 months since 2004 due to risk of mad cow disease. Stabenow said Mexico had been a top market for U.S. beef exports and the rule now costs beef producers in the U.S. $100 million each year in lost trade opportunities.
“This effort is crucial to breaking down other countries’ unfounded trade barriers, and re-opening trade markets that are closed to U.S. beef,” she said in a statement. “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.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the new rule will wash away "unfair trade barriers" enacted by some countries against the United States.
"By having this rule in place, the United States can now show leadership
around the world and give the U.S. Trade Representative and the
Department of Agriculture a stronger position to press other nations to
follow the World Organization for Animal Health’s guidelines and adopt
science-based BSE policies," he said in a statement. "When nations base their decisions on sound
science, more markets will be expanded or opened to U.S. beef."
In a statement, the European Commission celebrated the rule change, which will bring with it the change for European shippers to once again export beef to the United States.
“This will mean that EU beef and other bovine products will again be allowed for U.S. export. The U.S. market has been closed since January 1998 when the U.S. imposed a ban on EU beef on BSE grounds,” the commission said. “The re-opening is a welcome, albeit late, step to abolish the unjustified ban and to re-establish normal trading conditions.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Scott George said the change in regulations tells the rest of the world that the U.S. is committed to the beef trade.
“This is great news for the U.S. cattle industry and integral to our efforts to further international trade,” he said in a statement. “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.”