Hong Kong’s decision to fully reopen its market to U.S. beef shows the industry’s safeguards against disease are working to build international demand, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced June 17 that Hong Kong agreed to new terms that will lead to expanded exports of American beef to that city-state.
Under the new terms, Hong Kong will accept a full range of beef products as it did before December 2003, when bovine spongiform encephalopathy was found in a California dairy cow and closed many international markets to U.S. Beef.
Previously, only deboned beef from all cattle and certain bone-in beef from cattle less than 30 months of age could be shipped to Hong Kong, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association explained in a news release.
The agreement is good news for American ranchers who “produce the best beef in the world,” declared NCBA president Bob McCan, a cattle producer in Victoria, Texas.
“The strong system of interlocking safeguards and protocols our industry put in place over 10 years ago have assured consumers, both domestically and abroad, of the safety of our product,” McCan said in a statement.
The agreement comes about a year after a panel from the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, upgraded the United States’ risk status for BSE to “negligible” from “controlled risk” as federal systems for detecting diseases and tracing animals have reassured some of America’s trading partners.
The USDA tests about 40,000 cows a year for BSE and recently implemented a rule that animals be certified as disease-free before they can be moved across state lines.
BSE, or mad cow disease, is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal brain disease in people who eat tainted beef. The World Health Organization has said tests show humans cannot be infected by drinking milk from infected animals.
After the BSE detection here, Hong Kong banned all U.S. beef products until December 2005, when it partially reopened its market. Hong Kong reported more than $823 million in U.S. beef imports last year and brought in more than $307 million worth of American beef in the first four months of 2014, according to the NCBA.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.