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New BSE rule renews divisions in U.S. beef industry

Tim Hearden
Many beef industry groups say the USDA's new rule for determining other countries' risk status for BSE will improve America's credibility with its trading partners. But one group says it could put American consumers and cattle herds at greater risk.

The USDA’s recent decision to ease restrictions on beef imports from countries with a history of bovine spongiform encephalopathy has renewed familiar divisions within the American beef industry.

Some industry groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Administration and U.S. Meat Export Federation agree with the Obama administration’s assertion the move could eventually open new markets for U.S. exports.

“We’ve been preaching since the beginning that we need to apply sound science to trade relations, and that’s certainly a two-way street,” NCBA spokesman Chase Adams said. “We’ve been asking that sound science be the basis for other countries’ trade with us. This just sends an even more clear signal with the final rule.”

The federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s new rule, announced Nov. 1, brings the U.S. import standards for determining trading partners’ BSE risk in line with those of the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE.

As such, the rule reopens the American market to beef from the European Union, whose meat has been barred from U.S. entry since 1998.

“With regard to trade negotiations with the European Union, this has been a sore point for them for the past several years, that we don’t allow any beef imports from the European Union,” said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for USMEF. “Bringing our import regulations in compliance with OIE guidelines should improve the negotiating atmosphere.”

Schuele doesn’t see the rule affecting relations with China, which has been closed to U.S. beef since BSE was detected here in 2003. Talks with China “often get tangled up in other issues,” he said.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America argues the new rule could put American consumers and cattle herds at greater risk. The group notes that four new cases of BSE were reported in the European Union this year.

The rule “underscores the need for country-of-origin labeling, which is currently under attack” in the courts and in Congress, asserted Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s chief executive officer.

However, the USDA counters the rule won’t change current safeguards against BSE, including “robust” monitoring of the domestic cattle herd and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.

The rule comes after the OIE upgraded the United States’ risk status for BSE from “controlled risk” to “negligible”, as federal measures for detecting diseases and tracing animals have reassured some of America’s trading partners.

“Given our recently upgraded status … we hope that other countries will use the OIE guidelines for status in their consideration for future agreements,” Adams said. “We hope that they’ll fall in line with where the current science is. If they do … then that’s going to only help us expand into some of those markets that after 2003 had reacted negatively.”

Online

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: http://www.aphis.usda.gov

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association: http://www.beefusa.org

U.S. Meat Export Federation: http://www.usmef.org

R-CALF USA: http://www.r-calfusa.com



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