WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2013- USDA announced Wednesday that the risk status of U.S. cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) may soon be moved from “controlled” to “negligible,” the category considered least risky.  

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) classifies the BSE risk status of the cattle population of a country into three categories: negligible BSE risk, controlled BSE risk or undetermined BSE risk. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said today the Scientific Commission for the OIE recommended that the United States' risk classification be upgraded to negligible. The final adoption is expected in May after review from OIE member nations.

“In recommending that the United States receive negligible risk classification, the Commission stated that the risk assessments submitted for their evaluation were robust and comprehensive, and that both our surveillance for, and safeguards against, BSE are strong,” Vilsack said.

He noted that being classified in the lowest risk category for BSE will help increase exports of U.S. beef.

“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,” he said. 

According to USDA, the world’s top three beef exporters are India, Brazil and Australia, which all currently have negligible risk status.
The following tables from the OIE show the countries currently listed with negligible and controlled BSE risk status:

Negligible BSE risk














New Zealand







Controlled BSE risk




Chinese Taipei







Korea (Rep. of)


Czech Republic


Slovak Republic












United Kingdom



United States of America


In May 2007, OIE classified the United States as a controlled risk country in regard to BSE. Last year, the United States submitted an application to the OIE's Scientific Commission to upgrade the United States' risk classification from controlled to negligible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been four separate cases of BSE in the United States. Through April 2012, CDC’s BSE surveillance identified 23 cases in North America: Four in the United States and 19 in Canada. Of the four cases identified in the United States, one was born in Canada. Of the 19 cases identified in Canada, one was imported from the United Kingdom.

Joe Schuele, Communications Director for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, cautions that this is a recommendation and that we won’t know the final decision until May. However, if the recommendation is adopted, he says it could be “a significant boost for U.S. trade officials trying to gain access to key export markets,” especially in countries where “we need relief from restrictions. He noted that there could be significant gains in countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Ecuador and perhaps even Australia."

Before the OIE's annual General Assembly meeting in Paris, France, in May 2013, delegate countries will have the opportunity to review the Commission's recommendation. The United States expects that formal adoption of negligible risk status will occur during this meeting.

"This is very positive news," said Jon Wooster, President of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, adding that he is grateful for USDA’s efforts in the process. Wooster specifically mentioned the work of USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Under Secretary Edward Avalos, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Deputy Administrator Dr. John Clifford and APHIS staff.

"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.   

OIE’s risk status is based on actions a country has taken to manage the risk of the disease, including a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling imports of animals and animal products from countries at risk for the disease, and conducting appropriate surveillance.

Among other provisions, controlled risk countries with indigenous BSE cases must demonstrate an education and reporting program as well as an effective feed ban. Countries defined as negligible risk have conducted extensive surveillance and testing in domestic cattle to demonstrate a minimal risk for BSE. 

“The most important of these safeguards is the removal of specified risk materials – or the parts of an animal that could contain the BSE agent should an animal have the disease – from all animals presented for slaughter in the United States,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President-Elect Bob McCan. “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."

According to Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security, BSE or “mad cow disease,” is a disease that affects the brain of cattle and humans. Most scientists believe that it is caused by an abnormal protein in brain tissue called a prion that can cause fatal disease when eaten.

The disease was first diagnosed in the United Kingdom in 1986. Since then the disease occurred in many European countries as well as Japan, Canada and the United States, with 95 percent of the reported cases occurring in the United Kingdom, according to the ISU Center for Food Security.


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