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VB RANCH

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In a Friday news conference, USDA officials outlined a proposal to bring U.S. beef-import standards with regard to BSE in line with those set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Under the proposed rule, APHIS would adopt the same criteria and categories that 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 proposed rule potentially would allow beef imports from countries rated as having “controlled risk” for BSE, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands. The United States currently is rated as a controlled-risk country, although a request is in place with the OIE to upgrade our risk level to “negligible.”

Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer, says the proposed change will help strengthen our negotiating position as the U.S. seeks to expand international access for our beef exports by matching our import standards with the ones we expect our export customers to apply to U.S. beef. “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,” Clifford says. “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.”

Clifford also stresses that a range of BSE safeguards remain in place, and beef-import standards will remain dependant on an individual exporting country’s status for diseases such as food and mouth disease, as well as for BSE.

The USDA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, and it likely will generate some contentious debate among stakeholders in the U.S. beef industry.

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. We stand ready to work with members of Congress and the administration to finalize this rule.”

Josh Winegarner, government relations director for the texas Cattle Feeders Association says "It's difficult for us to continue to demand that our trading partners comply with OIE standards when we don't. This proposed rule, which has been in the works since 2004, should level the playing field for U.S. beef in the global marketplace and demonstrate our commitment to basing trade decisions on internationally-recognized, science-based standards."

R-CALF USA, on the other hand, is not happy about the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Obama Administration has chosen to follow the dangerous course first charted by the Bush Administration to systematically relax longstanding and essential disease protection standards at our borders,” says R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard. “Today the USDA announced a proposed rule that would relax current import restrictions for cattle and beef that originate in countries where BSE is known to exist. Specifically, USDA said the United States’ BSE-related import restrictions would be lifted for a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Netherlands. According to the OIE those three countries together detected 11 new cases of BSE-infected cattle in 2011.

“Secretary Vilsack has again ignored our concerns and is putting the self-interests of corporate meatpackers that want access to more meat supplies regardless of risk to humans and livestock, ahead of the health and safety concerns of U.S. citizens.

“The USDA is touting its proposed rule as a trade rule, claiming it will strengthen the United States’ negotiating position in trade agreements. This is the same failed argument the Bush Administration used when it first relaxed our U.S. BSE policies in 2004, and the result of that failed argument is that many important export markets imposed long-lasting export restrictions on U.S. beef. Exposing U.S. consumers and U.S. livestock to a heightened risk of BSE introduction is irresponsible and contrary to pledges made by the Obama Administration during his campaign. We urge every U.S. consumer and every livestock producers to rise up in opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposed rule to relax our essential protections against the introduction of mad cow disease.”

Read more about the proposed rule from USDA/APHIS.

Read a set of frequently asked questions and answers from USDA.
 

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