New USDA rule to establishes minimal-risk regions for BSE
Canada recognized as minimal-risk region, making it eligible to export to the United States

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2004: The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that after conducting an extensive risk review it is establishing conditions under which it will allow imports of live cattle under 30 months of age and certain other commodities from regions with effective bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prevention and detection measures.

This final rule ensures the continued protection of public and animal health from BSE, while removing prohibitions on the importation of certain animals and commodities from minimal-risk regions. Prior to being able to import to the United States, each country must undergo a thorough risk assessment.

"We are committed to ensuring that our regulatory approach keeps pace with the body of scientific knowledge about BSE," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "After conducting an extensive review, we are confident that imports of certain commodities from regions of minimal risk can occur with virtually no risk to human or animal health. Our approach is consistent with guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, and relies on appropriate, science- based risk mitigation measures."

OIE recommendations, which are based on the latest science, provide guidelines for trade in cattle of any age, as well as beef and many other cattle products, even from countries that are considered to be at high risk for BSE as long as appropriate mitigation measures are applied to protect both human and animal health.

Canada will be the first country recognized as a minimal-risk region and, as such, will be eligible to export to the United States live cattle under the age of 30 months, as well as certain other animals and products. Live cattle imported from Canada under this rule, which is over 500 pages, will be subject to restrictions designed to ensure that they are slaughtered by the time they reach 30 months of age. These include permanent marking of the animals as to their origin, requiring them to move in sealed containers to a feedlot or to slaughter, and not allowing them to move to more than one feedlot while in the United States.

USDA is confident that the animal and public health measures that Canada has in place to prevent BSE, combined with existing U.S. domestic safeguards and additional safeguards provided in the final rule provide the utmost protections to U.S. consumers and livestock. When Canadian ruminants and ruminant products are presented for importation into the United States, they become subject to domestic safeguards as well. Beef imports that have already undergone Canadian inspection are also subject to re- inspection at ports of entry by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to ensure only eligible products are imported.

USDA conducted a thorough risk analysis for certain types of Canadian ruminants and ruminant products introducing BSE into the United States. This risk analysis included careful consideration of the risk mitigation measures Canada has in place to detect and prevent BSE in Canadian cattle and also the risk mitigation measures imposed in this final rule.

USDA has concluded that Canada meets the requirements for a minimal-risk region. The minimal-risk standards that Canada has met include among others:

  • Prohibition of specified risk materials in human food.
  • Import restrictions sufficient to minimize exposure to BSE: Since 1990, Canada has maintained stringent import restrictions, preventing the entry of live ruminants and ruminant products, including rendered protein products, from countries that have found BSE in native cattle or that are considered to be at significant risk for BSE.
  • Surveillance for BSE at levels that meet or exceed international guidelines: Canada has conducted active surveillance for BSE since 1992 and exceeded the level recommended in international guidelines for at least the past seven years.
  • Ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban in place and effectively enforced: Canada has had a ban on the feeding of ruminant proteins to ruminants since August 1997, with compliance monitored through routine inspections.
  • Appropriate epidemiological investigations, risk assessment, and risk mitigation measures imposed as necessary: Canada has conducted extensive investigations in response to any BSE finding and has taken additional risk mitigation measures in response.
  • The rule also outlines conditions under which sheep, goats, cervids and camelids can be imported, as well as meat and certain other products and byproducts from these animals.

USDA first proposed changes to its regulations regarding establishing minimal-risk regions and conditions for safely importing live ruminants and ruminant products from such regions on Nov. 4, 2003, and the comment period was still under way when the United States announced its first case of BSE on December 23, 2003, in a cow imported from Canada. To allow additional time for commenters to evaluate the proposal in the context of the first U.S. finding of the disease, USDA reopened the comment period and accepted comments until April 7, 2004. The final rule will be published in the Jan. 4, 2005 Federal Register and will be effective March 7, 2005.

Other countries or regions that meet the minimal-risk conditions will be considered in the future. The designation of any future countries as minimal-risk regions will be accomplished through rulemaking procedures following completion of an appropriate risk assessment.