by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) — A bipartisan group of 31 senators wrote the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday pushing the Obama administration to issue a new rule for loosening restrictions on beef imports from countries regardless of their classification for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, released the letter on Tuesday, asking the White House to move ahead and publish the new import rule for countries based on BSE status. According to the OMB, the proposal would align U.S. importation rules on BSE with the criteria spelled out by the World Organization for Animal Health.
The proposed rule has been at the OMB since Oct. 17, 2011. According to the USDA notice, the proposal would amend regulations on importation of cattle and cattle products and change classifications for countries regarding BSE. Some products would be allowed into the U.S. regardless of the BSE status of the country exporting the products. Other products would continue to face restrictions or bans, though the OMB notice does not detail that information.
The senators stated in the letter that trade barriers limit the ability of U.S. beef producers to ship products to other countries. Thus, the U.S. needs to take a lead and adopt science-based rules as well.
“A prime example of where non-science based standards have significantly limited our ability to sell U.S. beef is in the country of Mexico,” the senators stated. “Since 2004, Mexico has not allowed the importation of U.S. cattle that are over 30 months of age. Mexico has traditionally been one of the top export markets for U.S. beef; however, due to the 30 month age restriction, it is estimated U.S. beef producers are losing $100 million annually.”
The World Organization for Animal Health — commonly called by its French acronym, the OIE — has designated both the U.S. and Mexico as “controlled-risk countries” in regards to BSE. That means both countries have effective BSE risk mitigation measures in place, the senators noted.
Under the OIE, the only major restrictions on controlled-risk countries involves what are called specified risk materials from cattle over 30 months of age. Brains, eyes, spinal cord, skull and vertebral columns must be removed and not used.
The U.S. also continues to face a 20-month restriction in countries such as Japan while China has not opened its borders to U.S. beef outside of Hong Kong.
“By having a comprehensive BSE rule in place, the U.S. will show leadership on the global scale and will give USTR (U.S. Trade Representative) and USDA a stronger position to press other nations to follow the OIE’s guidelines and adopt science-based BSE policies,” the senators wrote. “As a result, when nations base their decisions on sound science, we are confident more markets will be expanded or opened to U.S. beef.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said its members “appreciate the letter because having a comprehensive BSE rule in place will show the United States is willing to talk the talk and walk the walk with regard to following OIE standards.”
The Ranchers-Cattlemen’s Action Legal Fund condemned the proposed rule in an action letter to members last week warning them that senators were circulating such a letter. R-CALF noted Canada found its 19th case of BSE last year in an animal that already would meet U.S. age requirements for live importation of cattle. “In other words, the U.S. is allowing the importation of live cattle that were known to be fed in Canada while the BSE agent was known to be circulating in Canada’s feed system.”
R-CALF added that the European Union continues to have stronger restrictions than the U.S. and OIE recommendations.
USDA officials had indicated they expected the BSE rule would be released sometime in fiscal-year 2012.
The full letter from senators can be read here: http://dld.bz/…
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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp