The longstanding U.S. ban on British beef just ended.
This month, UK-produced beef arrived in the U.S. for the first time since 1996, when the outbreak of BSE, also known as mad cow disease, shut down red meat imports from the EU.
UK beef was actually cleared for export in March following a series of inspections by the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, but experts say final negotiations took time.
British politicians and food industry leaders have hailed the change as a victory for British agriculture. U.S. food policy experts are not quite as optimistic. The change, they say, has had little impact on U.S. beef producers, but may later be useful as a tool for negotiating on behalf of the U.S. industry.
“As for the impact of these imports on U.S. producers and exporters, or on the balance of trade, it should be quite minimal. (But) from a broader perspective, reopening the U.S. market to British beef could possibly prove helpful in trade agreement negotiations with the UK,” Joe Schuele, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, told the Capital Press.
Schuele said export groups can expect to know more as U.S.-UK trade talks progress this fall.
A U.S. trade official who asked not to be named told the Capital Press the long-awaited decision to import UK beef really had little to do with BSE. It has long been safe to import UK beef without risk to producers or consumers, he said.
“It was just a strategic trade barrier for years, nothing clearer than that,” he said. “Everyone knows it’s not a health issue anymore. It’s all about negotiating power.”
The recent inspections focused on synchronizing U.S. and British E. coli prevention standards. E. coli outbreaks are less common in Britain than in the U.S., experts say, because Americans are likelier to eat meat cooked rare and medium-rare. Now that the standards are in sync, trade will be easier.
UK beef producers have expressed excitement over their new access to the U.S. market. Industry leaders estimate the market will be worth about $85 billion over the next five years.
In a statement, the British environment secretary called the move a “landmark milestone.”
“This could be just the tip of the iceberg. The free trade deal we are negotiating with the U.S. will create a host of export opportunities for British agriculture,” said British international trade secretary Liz Truss in another statement.
American farm groups say they hope the warm sentiments from the UK will lead to more preferential treatment when it’s their turn to ask a favor.
UK pork exports to the U.S. continue as before. Lamb, which was banned under the same red meats umbrella as beef more than two decades ago, still awaits its turn for inspection before it can be imported to the U.S.