Comprehensive BSE rule overdue
USDA should move ahead with finalizing BSE rules relating to cattle and beef importation and international standards, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) stated in its comments on the proposed rule.
USDA published in the Federal Register a comprehensive rule for BSE on March 16, 2012. NCBA voiced support for the rule last Tuesday, the day before comments on the proposed rule closed. NCBA Vice President Bob McCan said the organization has been pushing for this rule since the first case of BSE was detected in the U.S. in December 2003.
“This has been a long time coming and we certainly welcome this rule. Quite simply, this proposed rule will show the United States is willing to talk the talk and walk the walk with regard to following international standards developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE),” said McCan. “We cannot demand our trading partners follow OIE standards when we are not here at home.”
As noted in the comments submitted by NCBA, the comprehensive BSE rule will solidify the U.S.’ commitment to basing trade relationships on internationally-recognized, sciencebased standards. McCan said maintaining a healthy cattle herd is a top priority for NCBA and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) should be commended for putting forth a comprehensive BSE rule that allows the U.S. to meet demand with little, if any, market disruption.
“The U.S. beef industry has worked closely with USDA-APHIS for many years to make sure we have the highest quality controls in place to maintain a healthy cattle population,” said McCan. “We must have an objective comprehensive rule in place for beef and cattle imports as soon as possible in order for our nation’s trade negotiators to have credibility in opening markets for U.S. beef. Nontariff trade barriers hinder our ability to expand U.S. beef exports with many of our global trading partners. Cattlemen need our trade negotiators to eliminate these barriers by requiring our global trading partners to make objective, sciencebased decisions regarding U.S. beef.”
The current categories of BSE under U.S. regulations are: BSE is known to exist, regions of undue risk for BSE, and BSE minimal-risk regions. The OIE classification system classifies areas as being either negligible risk, controlled risk, or undetermined risk for BSE, according to USDA’s proposed rule. Using the riskbased approach, APHIS will have the option of accepting the country risk determination made by OIE or of conducting their own assessment if they believe appropriate. APHIS import regulations for BSE would be based more on science with this proposed rule.
The proposed rule has its opponents, claiming the rule will weaken the safeguards in place.
“USDA’s proposal maintains the safeguards that have been in place in the U.S. for years and served us well,” said Jim Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, an industry group that includes Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS Swift & Co.
“To allege that the proposal will weaken safeguards is simply not supported by the facts.”
But according to Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF, the proposal creates potential loopholes.
“We were astounded that USDA would propose to further weaken our already weakened BSE protections,” Bullard said. R-CALF members had requested an extension of USDA’s comment period.
The closing of the comment period for the proposed comprehensive BSE rule comes on the heels of the recent atypical BSE case discovered in a 10-year-old California dairy cow last month, the first positive case found in the U.S. since 2006. — Traci Eatherton,WLJ Editor