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U.S. to adopt OIE beef import standards on BSE

Aiming to improve its bargaining position with countries now closed to U.S. beef and cattle, the U.S. government plans to adopt the accepted world animal health guidelines on imports from countries where BSE has been found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Friday published a proposed rule for a 60-day public comment period, remodelling its import rules to follow the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines Canada already follows.

OIE guidelines allow for live cattle and beef products to be safely traded, provided that the exporting country has taken all appropriate steps to manage bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), such as feed controls and surveillance.

"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," Dr. John Clifford, APHIS’ chief veterinary officer, said in a release Friday.

"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."

APHIS, under the proposed rule, would adopt the same criteria and categories that the OIE uses to identify a country’s BSE risk status, categorizing them as negligible, controlled or undetermined risk.

Canada, which has confirmed 18 domestic cases of BSE in cattle since 2003, sits in the "controlled risk" category.

APHIS would base its new import policy for a particular country on that country’s OIE risk classification, but would also be able to conduct its own assessment in some cases — such as when a country isn’t yet classified by the OIE for BSE risk, and asks that APHIS conduct a risk evaluation using OIE-equivalent criteria.

All countries would be considered by APHIS to have an "undetermined" BSE risk unless officially recognized as either negligible or controlled risk.

"Appropriate measures"

Under OIE code, for example, certain products such as boneless beef are considered to be lower risk and could be safely imported regardless of the BSE status of an exporting country.

Live animals, however, are considered to present a higher risk and OIE guidelines recommend import requirements be applied, depending on the exporting country’s BSE risk classification.

"Having the U.S. adhere to OIE standards would make Canada’s access to the U.S. more secure and encourage other countries to adopt these international science-based guidelines," the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a statement Friday, noting it would comment further once it’s fully reviewed the nearly-300-page proposed rule.

"Canada supports today’s announcement as we have always maintained that a science-based approach is the best way to manage BSE," federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a separate release Friday. "We know that trade should not be affected when countries such as Canada and the U.S. put in place appropriate measures to protect human and animal health."

APHIS’ proposed approach "underscores the commitment on both sides of the border to responsibly manage BSE, without placing unnecessary restrictions on trade," the Canadian government said in its release.

The U.S. was among the countries that closed its ports to Canadian beef and cattle in May 2003 after the discovery of Canada’s first domestic case of BSE in an Alberta cow.

The U.S. resumed imports of beef from younger Canadian animals in August that year, imports of cattle under age 30 months in March 2005, and imports of live cattle born after March 1, 1999, in November 2007.

Meat products from Canadian animals of any age were also again allowed by late 2007, as long as their specified risk materials (SRMs, the tissues known to harbour BSE protein in infected animals) are removed.

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