New OIE standard on beef seen favouring Canada

Canada stands to gain from a reported World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) resolution that discards the 30-month age limit from the global body’s BSE-related safety standards for international beef trade.

A report Saturday from Japan’s Kyodo news agency, via the Associated Press news service, said the OIE adopted the resolution last week, which may help clear paths for more exports of Canadian beef from cattle of all ages.

According to Ted Haney, president of the Canada Beef Export Federation, the OIE resolution should help expand markets in the 34 countries that still limit imports of Canadian boneless beef to those from animals age 30 months or younger.

OIE safety standards had since 2005 recommended limiting beef exports from countries with BSE to boneless beef from animals under 30 months old (UTMs). According to AP and Kyodo, the new OIE resolution urges that boneless beef exports from cattle of all ages now be allowed for export.

In other words, according to Haney, it now wouldn’t matter if boneless beef comes from a country of unknown, controlled or negligible risk for BSE, or a country that has no ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feeding.

Essentially, as long as specified risk materials (SRMs, the tissues known to harbour the proteins that cause BSE in infected animals) have been removed at slaughter and in processing, boneless beef is safe to trade, Haney said Tuesday.

The OIE’s decision “establishes a much more positive environment” for Canada to press for an end to certain countries’ bans and restrictions, he said. Japan, for example, has since 2005 limited its imports from Canada to beef from cattle under just 20 months of age.

Haney said the CBEF has also heard feedback from South Korea that the OIE’s new resolution is likely to considerably weaken Korea’s case at the World Trade Organization, where Canada in April filed for consultations on that country’s BSE-related ban on Canadian beef.

The UTM rule now observed by some countries did not originate at the OIE, Haney noted, adding that it was a benchmark imposed by the U.S. government and first applied to U.S. imports of Canadian beef in 2003.

The OIE didn’t have a UTM rule until it revised its own guidelines two years later, he said. The U.S. rule was the template, and “it’s taken the OIE to undo it.”

The OIE’s new resolution, he said, confirms that the U.S. UTM rule was not only detrimental to cross-border trade in the beef sector but was not based in science.

Controlled risk

Calls for Japan to budge on its 20-month rule were also expected to gain traction from the OIE’s decision last week to grant “controlled risk” BSE status to Japan.

The Reuters news agency last week quoted beef industry analysts as saying the OIE’s decision on Japan would add pressure on Japan to grant more U.S. imports, as “it could hardly ask countries to end restrictions on its meat due to its new OIE status without easing its own limits on U.S. imports.”

Japan and Korea both shut their ports to all Canadian cattle, beef and related products in May 2003, when Canada found its first domestic case of BSE in an Alberta cow.

The OIE recognized Canada’s “controlled risk” status for BSE in May 2007, taking into account its ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feeding and enforced removal of SRMs at slaughter.

While some countries such as the U.S. have restored market access for Canadian beef and live cattle over time, Ottawa has made “ongoing” representations to Japan and other trading partners, asking that they resume trade in all beef and/or cattle based on Canada’s controlled-risk status.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Japan had been Canada’s third-largest market for beef before May 2003.

In 2002, the CCA said, Canada exported just over $81 million worth of beef to Japan, which the association described as “an important market for certain products that are difficult to sell in Canada.”

South Korea, meanwhile, had previously been Canada’s fourth-largest beef export market, with sales of $50 million in 2002.

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