GLOBAL - The US is lifting its 15 year old ban on imports of beef from the EU imposed because of concerns over BSE.
The move comes as the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a final rule that will complete efforts to modernise the Agency’s import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE),
The USDA said the move demonstrates to the international community that the United States is committed to basing its BSE regulations on internationally-accepted scientific literature and standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
The final regulation will allow for the safe trade of bovines and bovine products, while still protecting the United States from the introduction of BSE.
According to the OIE, the official BSE status of a country or zone is determined on the basis of an overall assessment of risk. The occurrence of a new BSE case implies a re-assessment of the official risk status only in the event of a change in the epidemiological situation indicating failure of the BSE risk mitigating measures in place.
The US is among 25 countries that are classified by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) as having a negligible BSE risk. This list includes South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay as well as several EU states, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden.
Other EU countries, including the UK, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain are classified as having a controlled BSE risk.
The European Commission has applauded the USDA’s announcement to bring the US legislation in line with international standards for BSE.
“This will mean that EU beef and other bovine products will again be allowed for US export. The US market has been closed since January 1998 when the US imposed a ban on EU beef on BSE grounds,” the European Commission said.
“The re-opening is a welcome, albeit late, step to abolish the unjustified ban and to re-establish normal trading conditions.”
Dr John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer said: “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 harbouring the disease.
“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.”
The USDA said that it was important to note that control of imports is only one of several interlocking safeguards against BSE.
The regulation does not change other measures that are currently in place in the United States.
For animal health, these measures include the US Food and Drug Administration's ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
The US also has a BSE surveillance programme monitors the health of the US cattle population.
Human health is protected by measures that ensure the safety of US beef, the most important of which is the ban on cattle materials that have been shown to carry the BSE agent (known as specified risk materials) from the food supply.
The USDA said that in recognition of the strength of these measures in the United States, the OIE upgraded the US risk classification for BSE to negligible risk in May 2013.
When this rule takes effect, the USDA said that APHIS will use the same criteria and categories that the OIE 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 European Commission is also hoping the action taken by the USDA will now also open up markets for other ruminant animals such as sheep and goats, which have also been subject to restrictions for the last 15 years.
“The EU expects that remaining import restrictions on EU sheep and goat products will be lifted soon as well and the US import conditions be fully aligned with international standards shortly.” The European Commission said.
“The EU internal market has delivered a high level of food safety for consumers both in the EU and abroad, based on international standards and solid science.
“The agriculture and food sectors have to be able to capitalise on this achievement.
“This market opening also sends an important signal to the EU's trading partners worldwide that EU beef is safe, and that imports of EU beef should resume quickly.”
The news that the United States has aligned its import rules on BSE with the World Organisation for Animal Health, is another boost for trade talks between the EU and US, according to NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe.
Mr Sercombe said: “The beef industry has gone through a number of difficult years but a lot of work is being done to develop export markets around the world and I believe we can be optimistic about our market prospects in the future.
“We now need equivalent rule changes on TSEs in sheep and goats to reflect international standards and we hope this could be agreed early next year.”