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BSE Situation Update

May 1, 2012
By: Jim Wiesemeyer, Pro Farmer Washington Consultant

Following are highlights of the latest developments relative to the fourth U.S. case of BSE.

Taiwan to dispatch team to U.S. this week: The delegation from Taiwan will inspect nine slaughterhouses along with feed suppliers and laboratories to ensure the safety of U.S. beef, Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji said at a legislative committee hearing. Feed controls at cattle operations and a check on whether specified risk materials (SRMs) are removed will also be a focus of the team. The nine facilities visited account for about 78% of the U.S. beef imported by Taiwan.

While some questioned why the visit didn't take place sooner, Chen said they only received a reply from the U.S. this week for the team of four to six officials from the Council of Agriculture and Department of Health.

Officials previously noted that the visit by Taiwan is a "normal" annual event but was being moved up in light of the fourth U.S. BSE case.

U.S. has 'sincerely answered' questions on BSE situation: South Korea team leader. Joo E-suk, Head of Korean Inspection Team, told reporters after meeting with USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford that they "appreciate the U.S. officials' sincere replies to our inquiries. Except on the issue of visiting the cattle farm in California, where the infected cow was discovered, they sincerely answered all our questions." The team will be sending a report to the Korean government on what they learned from U.S. officials.

From the U.S. side, Clifford said following the meetings, "It's very important that we will be able to discuss with them, this very rare occurrence of finding a typical BSEs in the United States."

The delegation is in Iowa today at the USDA lab in Ames where the confirmatory test for BSE was performed. From there, they will head to central California to check feed outlets and slaughterhouses but they still have not been given clearance to visit the dairy farm where the cow came from.

South Korea legislature panel approves resolution barring inspection of U.S. beef: The South Korean National Assembly's Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee adopted a resolution calling on for a halt of quarantine inspections on U.S. beef "until the safety of U.S. beef products are ascertained." The panel also called for revision of the U.S. beef trade protocol worked out between the two countries in 2008 before South Korea resumed imports of U.S. beef.

However, Korean Ag Minister Suh Kyu-yong told the panel session that the government has stepped up inspections of beef to 50%, noting that was "not caused by safety problem. The measure was rather intended to heighten public safety assurances."

Suh further noted that none of the world's 117 countries importing U.S. beef have imposed an import ban.

Meanwhile, the Cheong Wa Dae, the executive office of the president, said the inspections cannot be ended without "scientific proof" U.S. beef poses a public health threat. "There are no groundless claims and unfounded rumors spreading like wildfire on Twitter or the Internet this time," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. "That would suggest that the majority of the public knows that U.S. beef is not dangerous from their experience of the previous mad cow scare."

Regarding actions by other countries, the official said, "Foreign media reports that Thailand banned imports of U.S. beef were false, and Indonesia has merely raised import standards to the levels that we already apply."

Further, the official said that to end imports or inspections on U.S. beef without scientific backing "could lead to retaliatory measures by U.S. trade officials," the official said. "The government believes it must not be swayed by political pressure to commit any acts that can damage our national interests. If the government accepts demands for special inspections of U.S. beef imports, this would lead to demands to halt inspections, which would then lead to calls to halt U.S. beef imports altogether."

Thailand now seen keeping U.S. beef coming in. On Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that the U.S. Meat Export Federation was concerned that Thailand may join Indonesia and become just the second country to take action against U.S. beef in the wake of the fourth U.S. BSE case. It's not clear what Thailand may have barred as the prevention by Indonesia only involved bone-in beef, innards, gelatin and bone meal.

Later on Tuesday, USMEF said they now believe Thailand will keep trade flows open. "There's a good chance Thailand will stay open," USMEF spokesman Joe Schuele told the news service. "We don't think that market will close. It just appears that whatever thoughts they had about closing appear to have subsided at this time." However, some reports from other countries like Taiwan and South Korea indicated that both Indonesia and Thailand had taken action on U.S. beef shipments.

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