USDA opens comment period for updated BSE rule

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, March 9, 2012- Chief Veterinary Officer for the USDA, Dr. John Clifford, said a proposed rule to bring U.S. import regulations for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in line with science-based, international animal health standards will help open markets for U.S. beef. 

He said the proposed rule would not change other measures that are currently in place in the United States. With the revised rule, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would adopt the same criteria and categories that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) uses to identify a country's risk status for BSE, or mad-cow disease.

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“This rule seeks to bring our regulations in line with the most current scientific data and harmonize with OIE guidelines,” Clifford said. “The proposed changes will prove invaluable at the negotiating table when we look to open new markets.”

He said the OIE classifies a country's risk for BSE at a controllable, negligible, or undetermined risk level. The APHIS rule would open trade opportunities with controllable and negligible risk countries, as long as they are recognized as free of other major diseases, including foot and mouth. 

The process to modify U.S. BSE regulations began in 2004. Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) led an effort last month to encourage the Office of Management and Budget and APHIS to finalize a science-based, comprehensive BSE import rule. The Senators said the United States would set an example for international trading partners and provide a stronger bargaining position when asking other nations to adopt science-based BSE standards. For example, Mexico hasn't allowed U.S. beef more than 30 months old into their country since 2004. Grassley said the restriction caused U.S. beef producers in the United States to lose $100 million every year.

“In addition to protecting the U.S. cattle herd, the changes are expected to assist in future negotiations to reopen important trade markets that remain closed to U.S. beef,” according to USDA. “The comprehensive rule will do what the United States has been asking all of its trading partners to do for many years: base trade decisions on the actual risk of BSE.”

With this rulemaking, countries would be classified as either negligible risk, controlled risk, or undetermined risk for BSE. APHIS has the option of applying OIE levels or conducting its own assessment if deemed appropriate. According to the published rule, some low-risk commodities, such as boneless beef, would be allowed importation into the United States regardless of the BSE classification of the country of export. Other commodities would be subject to importation restrictions based on the type of commodity and the BSE classification of the country. In the United States, imported commodities would also need to meet entry requirements for other diseases.

According the APHIS, this proposed rule affirms the previous regulatory action APHIS took to allow imports of meat and meat products from Canadian cattle over 30 months of age.

“There have been a lot of challenges and some legal issues we've had to address,” he said. “It has taken us a little longer than we would have liked. Rule-making is not always a simple process.”

The modification to the rule, “Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy; Importation of Bovines and Bovine Products,” is open for a 60-day public comment period. This action is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register within a week and the proposed rule is currently available at




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