U.S. Partially Opens Border to Canadian Beef

WASHINGTON, DC, August 8, 2003 (ENS): After a scientific analysis determined that the risk of importing mad cow disease is very low, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin accepting applications for import permits for some ruminant derived products from Canada. Ruminants are cattle, sheep, goats, elk and deer.

On May 20, Secretary Veneman temporarily halted imports of live ruminants and most ruminant products from Canada after a single cow in Alberta was found to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

“We have a long history of safeguards in place to prevent the introduction of BSE in the United States, and the continued protection of the U.S. food supply is our top priority,” Veneman said. “Our experts have thoroughly reviewed the scientific evidence and determined that the risk to public health is extremely low.”

Today’s announcement comes after a review of the international standards set by the International Office of Epizootics (OIE), the standard setting organization for animal health for 164 member nations. There also has been an exhaustive epidemiological investigation into the case by Canada, during which no other animals were found to be infected, and Canada put risk reduction measures in place after a review of their investigation by an independent expert panel.

Veneman said that USDA will no longer prohibit the importation of hunter harvested wild ruminant products intended for personal use. The U.S. agency will begin to accept applications for import permits for certain products from Canada, including boneless meat from cattle under 30 months of age, and boneless veal meat from calves that were 36 weeks of age or younger at slaughter.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said today's announcement of a partial opening of the United States border to boxed beef from cattle under 30 months of age is great news and a very important first step toward resuming normal trade with the United States. Exports from Canada to customers south of the border may resume by September 1, the association said.

Veneman said that a rulemaking process will begin immediately for the importation of live ruminants and ruminant products.

Veneman called for an international dialogue on BSE to develop more practical, consistent guidance to countries regarding the resumption of trade with countries that have reported cases of BSE. Veneman said that the United States, along with Mexico and Canada, have requested that the OIE include such a dialogue in an upcoming meeting of international experts in September.

“The current OIE standards have been helpful in guiding countries with their risk mitigation efforts,” Veneman said. “But we are continually learning about this disease and the science is advancing. Countries knowing they will be treated consistently and fairly will have greater incentive to conduct appropriate levels of surveillance and reporting of BSE as well as to demonstrate transparency with their trading partners.”

“It is vital that we pursue this course so that there is consistency among trading partners and assurance to consumers around the world that their food supply is safe," Veneman said.

Since it was identified in the mid-1980s in Britain, mad cow disease has resulted in the slaughter of millions of cattle and the deaths of dozens of people from the related brain wasting disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explained in 2001 how BSE spreads. "Evidence suggests that certain contaminated cattle feed ingredients are the source of BSE infection in cattle. The process that leads to the contaminated feed starts when livestock already harboring the BSE agent are slaughtered. After cows and sheep are killed, the edible parts are removed. The inedible remnants are taken to a special plant, where they undergo a process called "rendering."

This process creates two major products - fat, which is used in an amazing array of products such as soap, lipstick, linoleum, and glue, and meat-and-bone meal, a powdery, high protein supplement that is often processed into animal feed."

"Although the animal remnants are cooked at high temperatures during the rendering process, the BSE agent, if present, is able to survive. When this contaminated meat-and-bone meal is fed to cattle as a protein supplement, the BSE agent can be passed on to many new cattle."

Hunters can immediately begin bringing wild ruminant meat products intended for their personal use into the United States. Download permits from: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse.html.

Certain other previously banned ruminant meat products may be imported with a “United States Veterinary Permit for Importation and Transportation of Controlled Material.” The application can be completed on line at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/import_export.htm or can be downloaded from http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ncie.

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