USDA Proposes BSE Import Rule Change

March 9, 2012 06:39 AM

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced today it is seeking public review and comment on a proposal to complete efforts to modernize the Agency’s import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

"This proposal is an important step forward in our efforts to bring our import regulations in line with science-based, international animal health standards," said Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer. "The proposal will help ensure we continue to provide strong protections against BSE, continue to make science-based decisions, and fully support safe trade in bovine commodities. As we continue to protect the health of the U.S. cattle industry, this proposal will also assist us in future negotiations to reopen important trade markets that remain closed to U.S. beef."

While the proposed rule would allow for the safe trade of additional bovines and bovine products, it’s important to note that control of imports is only one of several interlocking safeguards against BSE. The proposed rule would 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 and a robust BSE surveillance program. Human health is protected by measures that ensure the safety of U.S. beef, the most important of which is the ban on animal materials that have been shown to carry the BSE agent (known as specified risk materials) from the food supply.

Under the proposed rule, APHIS would adopt the same criteria and categories that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) uses to identify a country’s BSE risk status—negligible, controlled, and undetermined risk. APHIS would base its import policy for a particular country on that country’s risk classification as determined by OIE’s risk evaluation. The rule would also allow 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. All countries would be considered by APHIS to have an undetermined BSE risk unless officially recognized as either negligible or controlled risk.

The OIE determines a country’s risk status based on actions the country has taken to manage the risk of the disease. These actions include instituting a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling imports of animals and animal products from countries of undetermined risk, and conducting appropriate surveillance.

The OIE Code, which is based on the latest science and current knowledge concerning BSE, provides guidelines for the safe trade of animals and products based on the country’s risk status and the risk presented by the specific item being traded. For example, under the Code, boneless beef is considered to be lower risk and could be safely imported regardless of the BSE status of the exporting country. Live animals, however, present a higher risk and the OIE guidelines recommend that import requirements be applied depending on the BSE risk classification of the exporting country. In the United States, imported commodities would also need to meet entry requirements for other diseases, where applicable.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus issued the following statement regarding the USDA announcement:

"NCBA has been pushing for this rule since the first case of BSE was detected in the United Stated in December 2003. This has been a long time coming and we certainly welcome USDA’s announcement. Quite simply, this proposed rule will show the United States is willing to talk the talk and walk the walk with regard to following international standards developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

"Non-tariff trade barriers hinder our ability to expand U.S. beef exports with many of our global trading partners. Cattlemen need our trade negotiators to eliminate these barriers by requiring our global trading partners to make science-based decisions regarding U.S. beef. Along those lines, it is also important for the U.S. government to take all necessary steps to properly address risk related to BSE by adopting this proposed comprehensive rule.             

"It is very difficult for the United States to demand our trading partners follow OIE standards when we are not here at home. The comprehensive BSE rule will change that and will solidify the United States’ commitment to basing our trade relationships on internationally-recognized, science-based standards. We stand ready to work with members of Congress and the administration to finalize this rule."

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