OIE: U.S. better than OK on BSE

Feb 22, 2013

—Science panel recommends upgrading U.S. risk status for the disease.

More than nine years after the first cow with BSE was found in the U.S., a scientific commission for the World Organization for Animal Health has recommended upgrading the U.S. risk status to “negligible risk,” meaning there is less threat of the disease spreading among the domestic cattle herd.

USDA announced the recommendation Wednesday by the World Organization for Animal Health, which is typically known by its French acronym OIE.

“I am very pleased with this decision and recommendation by the OIE’s Scientific Commission,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “This is a significant achievement for the United States, American beef producers and businesses, and federal and state partners who work in coordination to maintain a system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE that protect our public and animal health.”

Vilsack added that being classified as negligible risk “will also greatly support our efforts to increase exports of U.S. beef and beef products.”

Countries generally apply for upgraded risk status late in the year and the science commission reviews the applications. The OIE general assembly will vote on the recommendation in the spring.

Right now, 49 countries have a BSE designation from the OIE due to prior positive cases of the disease. The U.S. has been lumped into a group of 30 countries with “controlled risk” status. Those countries have typically had repeated positive cases, but have implemented protections necessary to reduce risk. Another 19 countries right now have the negligible risk status.

The U.S. has had four cases of BSE since December 2003, including a California dairy cow last year.

However, under the OIE rule, a country’s status can be upgraded if it has been 11 years since the birth of the last cow found to have BSE in the country. The California cow was 10 years, seven months old when it died.

Canada has had 19 confirmed cases of BSE and also is listed as controlled risk. But it has only been nine years since the birth of its youngest cow that tested positive, so under OIE rules, Canada must wait at least two more years to apply for negligible status.

John Masswohl, a lobbyist for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said a change in the U.S. designation would still be good news for the entire North American market.

“We know our prices in Canada are pegged to the U.S. market, so a rising tide is good for everybody,” Masswohl said.

Since the first case of BSE, the U.S. has been slowly rebuilding beef exports, particularly to countries in Asia. After years of negotiating, Japan agreed earlier this month to start accepting beef from cattle up to 30 months of age. Japan had restricted beef from the U.S. to cattle less than 20 months of age.

California cattleman Jon Wooster, president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, said his group was grateful to USDA’s work to regain a negligible status. “This is a big step forward towards enhancing our export opportunities and in assuring our export markets that U.S. beef is produced under the highest standards in the world,” Wooster said.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President- Elect Bob McCan also applauded OIE’s recommendation.

“This announcement by OIE’s Scientific Commission is great news for U.S. cattle producers,” McCan stated in a news release late Wednesday afternoon. “The U.S. beef industry has worked with government officials and scientists to implement multiple interlocking safeguards to prevent BSE from taking hold in our country. Being classified as negligible risk for BSE by the OIE is proof that these safeguards are working and protecting the public and animal health against BSE.”

McCan stated that OIE’s recommendation is important to promoting U.S. beef in growing export markets. “We applaud USDA for working with the international scientific community and industry leaders on this issue,” he stated in the release.

According to USDA, in recommending that the U.S. receive negligible risk classification, the commission stated that the risk assessments submitted for evaluation were robust and comprehensive. Also, U.S. surveillance and safeguards against BSE are strong.

USDA added that the country continues to press for normalization of beef trade with several nations in a manner that is based on science and consistent with international standards. U.S. food and agricultural exporters and consumers worldwide benefit when countries adopt international standards. — Chris Clayton, DTN