The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Friday announced a final rule that will complete efforts to modernize import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The new regulations are based on internationally-accepted scientific literature and standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the agency said. The final regulation allows for safe trade of bovines and bovine products, but does not compromise current U.S. safeguards.
"This action will bring our BSE import regulations in line with international standards, which call for countries to base their trade policies on the actual risk of animals or products harboring the disease," said Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer.
"Making these changes will further demonstrate to our trading partners our commitment to international standards and sound science, and we are hopeful it will help open new markets and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products," Clifford added.
Control of imports is only one of several interlocking safeguards against BSE, the agency said. It joins the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban and BSE surveillance programs.
In recognition of the strength of U.S. protection measures against BSE, the OIE upgraded the U.S. risk classification for BSE to negligible risk in May 2013.
When this rule takes effect, APHIS will use the same criteria and categories that the World Organization for Animal Health uses to identify a country's BSE risk status. APHIS will base its import policy for a particular country on that country's risk classification as determined by OIE's risk evaluation.
The rule also allows APHIS to conduct its own assessment when deemed necessary, such as when a country is not yet classified by the OIE for BSE risk and requests that APHIS conduct a risk evaluation using criteria equivalent to that used by OIE, the agency said.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association Friday applauded the new rule, calling it "great news for the U.S. cattle industry."
"With these import regulations set, I am confident we will be able to expand our market access and meet international demand for high quality U.S. beef. We greatly appreciate the work of USDA Secretary Vilsack and the entire team at USDA/APHIS," noted NCBA President Scott George.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also supported the rule, noting in a press statement that the rule will improve trade.
"This effort is crucial to breaking down other countries’ unfounded trade barriers, and re-opening trade markets that are closed to U.S. beef. American agriculture has long set the gold standard for food production and safety," she said.
Chairwoman Stabenow pointed to Mexico as a prime example of where non-science based standards have significantly limited U.S. producers’ ability to sell beef, explaining that since 2004, Mexico hasn’t allowed the importation of U.S. cattle that are over 30 months of age. Mexico has traditionally been one of the top export markets for U.S. beef, however, due to the 30 month age restriction, it’s estimated U.S. beef producers are losing $100 million annually.