On Friday, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a final rule to bring U.S. standards for imports of bovines and bovine products in line with internationally-accepted scientific literature and standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Predictably, the action drew mixed reactions from beef groups with opposing views on trade issues.
According to an agency release, when this rule takes effect, 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.
Dr. John Clifford, APHIS Deputy Administrator and Chief Veterinary Officer, says “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.”
NCBA favors the ruling, and issued a news release emphasizing the benefits of free trade. “This is great news for the U.S. cattle industry and integral to our efforts to further international trade,” says Scott George, NCBA president and Cody, Wyo. cattleman. “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.”
R-CALF USA on the other hand, opposes the new rule. "Despite the fact that BSE persists in the European Union (EU), which reported four new BSE cases in 2013, the new USDA rule opens the door to allow U.S. meatpackers to begin supplementing tight U.S. beef supplies with beef of questionable safety from Europe," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
"USDA is working closely with the multinational meatpackers to open new import platforms so they can break the U.S. cattle market that has only recently reached profitable levels after being severely depressed for more than a decade. Cargill's recent announcement that it has partnered with an Australian exporter to import grain-fed and grass-fed beef in the U.S. will now be followed by announcements to further increase price-depressing imports from Europe, thanks to USDA," Bullard concluded.
Under OIE regulations, there are three BSE risk categories - negligible, controlled and undetermined risk. Earlier this year, the OIE upgraded the BSE status of the United States from controlled to negligible, the lowest-risk category. Much of Europe remains in the controlled risk category. The OIE provides the BSE-risk status of member countries on its website.
APHIS includes a list of frequently asked questions and answers on its website.
For the full rule, read Docket No. APHIS-2008-0010.