BSE rule long overdue

Feb 17, 2012

Record beef export numbers for 2011 and projected increases for 2012 have legislators hoping for finalization of what some consider a long overdue comprehensive BSE rule that was started in 2004.

The bipartisan group of 31 U.S. senators believes the non-science based rules held by other countries challenge beef exports and without scientific rules of our own, the U.S. is in no position to tell other countries how to manage BSE issues.

The group, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Ben Nelson, D-NE, sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service urging the agencies to finalize a comprehensive rule for BSE. The senators said the lack of a comprehensive rule has harmed U.S. beef trade.

“Non-tariff trade barriers limit our ability to sell beef to consumers in other countries,” the senators penned. “Beef producers need our trade negotiators to significantly reduce or eliminate nontariff trade barriers by requiring our trading partners to make science-based decisions regarding U.S. beef. By the same logic, it is also important for our government to take the necessary steps to properly address risk related to BSE by adopting a comprehensive rule.”

Citing an example of trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, the senators said non-science based standards have limited the U.S.’ ability to sell beef in Mexico. While the International Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has recognized both Mexico and the U.S. as controlled risk countries, meaning both countries have effective BSE risk mitigation measures in place, since 2004, Mexico has not allowed the importation of U.S. cattle over 30 months of age.

“Mexico has traditionally been one of the top export markets for U.S. beef,” the senators wrote. “However, due to the 30-month age restriction, it is estimated U.S. beef producers are losing $100 million annually.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus said cattlemen appreciate the letter because having a comprehensive BSE rule in place will show the U.S. is willing to talk the talk and walk the walk with regard to following OIE standards.

“The United States should not continue demanding our trading partners to follow OIE standards when we are not here at home. The comprehensive BSE rule will change that and will solidify the United States’ commitment to basing our trade relationships on internationally-recognized, sciencebased standards,” Bacus said.

“This rule has been a long time coming, and we stand ready to work with members of Congress and the administration to finalize this rule because it will give trade negotiators from the United States a stronger position to press other nations to follow OIE standards.”

The rule would comply with guidelines established by the International Organization for Animal Health and open markets abroad for U.S. beef.

In May 2003, BSE was confirmed in a cow in Alberta, Canada—the first known native North American case. In December 2003, BSE was confirmed in a Canadianborn cow in Washington state—the first known U.S. occurrence. On Jan. 2 and 11, 2005, Canada announced two more cases of BSE, also in Alberta cows.

As the cases emerged, a number of steps were taken by the U.S. to safeguard the industry. Specifically, shortly after the May 2003 Canadian BSE discovery, USDA published an interim final rule in the Federal Register prohibiting the importation of cattle and other ruminants and ruminant products from Canada. This rule has, over time, been lifted.

According to a USDA report, after the administration acted on several subse quent occasions to expand the types of permitted products the ban prohibited, beyond those announced in August 2003, and to ease the conditions for their entry into the U.S., a federal judge in April 2004 halted the expansion.

The judge concluded that USDA had not followed rulemaking procedures as spelled out in the Administrative Procedure Act. The judge noted, among other things, that import restrictions were being relaxed “at the very same time when USDA is in the middle of a rulemaking to determine whether to take such a step.”

According to the USDA report, the judge was referring to a Nov. 4, 2003, proposed rule that would allow entry of additional types of Canadian beef, other ruminant products, including younger cattle. After the court’s ruling, USDA officials agreed to limit bovine imports only to those they had approved for entry in August 2003 until after a final rule could be published.

USDA published this rule in final form on Jan. 4, 2005, which was to take effect March 7, 2005. However, the same federal judge, responding to another lawsuit, granted a temporary injunction that blocked implementation of the rule. To date, the BSE rule has yet to be finalized. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor