Capital Press

The USDA has proposed a rule for the importation of beef from countries at risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy that will align U.S. standards with those of the World Organization for Animal Health.

The rule would harmonize US. trade import regulations with science-based, international animal-health standards, John Clifford, chief veterinarian officer for USDA, said in a conference call with the press on March 9.

"The rule does bring us in line with the science that is known about the disease," he said.

The allowance of beef imports would be based on a country's risk level for the disease, as long as the country is also free of foot and mouth and other diseases.

Consideration of imports would be on a case-by-case basis, he said.

While the proposal will ensure strong protections against BSE, it is only one component in safeguarding the U.S. beef herd and human health. The rule would not change the ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feed, the BSE surveillance program or the ban on specified risk material from the food supply, he said.

The proposal would also assist the U.S. in negotiations to reopen markets closed to U.S. beef and open new markets, he said.

"I would say in all our trade negotiations, it gives us a stronger position to negotiate," he said.

Under the proposed rule, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would adopt the trade guidelines and risk categories used by OIE. Risk categories include: negligible, controlled and undetermined.

OIE guidelines allow beef product from countries with negligible and controlled risks unrestricted access and allow access to boneless beef from countries with undetermined risks.

That would mean imports from the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands, which are free of other diseases, theoretically would be allowed, said Lisa Ferguson, deputy director of USDA's National Center for Imports and Exports.

A 60-day comment period will follow the proposed rule's publication in the Federal Registry, scheduled for next week.

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