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From: TSS ()
Subject: OIE Rule Change Could Undermine Health and Safety Import Standards to Protect Against BSE
Date: June 2, 2005 at 6:02 am PST


OIE Rule Change Could Undermine Health and Safety Import Standards to Protect Against BSE

By R-CALF USA
May 31, 2005, 23:35




Billings, Mont. – Last week’s decision by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to replace its five categories of risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) with only three may undermine basic import standards for food safety and public health by downwardly harmonizing these standards.

"If this change in risk categories means OIE believes BSE-affected countries need fewer protections in place to export their beef, then that’s a step backward for OIE, and is not in step with its mission to ensure basic health and safety standards, while at the same time, promoting trade," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

"The most effective way to strengthen a nation’s ability to export beef products is to ensure the safety of those products, and today, most BSE-affected countries do exactly that," Bullard continued. "The majority of BSE-affected countries already have adopted science-based risk mitigation measures even stricter than what OIE required before this change, with the only exception being Canada – which still wants to adopt the least stringent risk-mitigation standards – even with four cases of BSE during the past two years.

Bullard emphasized the OIE decision will make implementation of the United States’ Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (M-COOL) law that much more important, to make certain domestic consumers have the ability to know where the beef they purchase is from, and that those consumers have a choice about which beef to purchase.

"The U.S., Canada and Mexico were driving forces behind OIE’s action," Bullard pointed out. "If the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now going to tell U.S. consumers that our borders are going to be opened to more cuts of beef from BSE-affected countries, then they deserve to know where those beef products are from."

Congress passed M-COOL in the 2002 Farm Bill, yet USDA has continued to delay its implementation. As a result of recent legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, it is possible that funding could again be delayed. The vote on the House floor will take place next week.

"Additionally, the prospect of resuming beef trade with countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and France – where BSE infection has been the greatest – highlights the need for Congress to ensure that Mandatory COOL be implemented quickly," Bullard said. "Otherwise, consumers will be unable to choose for themselves whether to purchase beef from countries that have had, and possibly continue to have, significant BSE problems."

Bullard also said R-CALF USA may have additional comments on OIE’s rule changes after more detailed information is available from that international body.

"It’s been difficult to determine exactly what the United States, Canada and Mexico proposed, and how OIE will implement those suggestions because we don’t have the details on the new risk-mitigation measures," noted Bullard.

One purpose of OIE is to minimize trade disruptions in the face of global animal diseases, with particular emphasis on helping underdeveloped nations maintain adequate animal-health standards so they can participate in international trade. However, the risk categories and standards OIE has advocated are not binding on any country’s policy-making, as demonstrated by the fact that all BSE-affected countries – with the exception of Canada – have implemented tougher standards and more protective standards.

Pre-existing OIE guidelines called for less stringent practices for countries with only a few cases of BSE and that also had an effectively enforced feed ban in place for eight years. It is important to compare those guidelines with OIE’s recommendations for countries with larger outbreaks. One finds that the actual practices adopted by every BSE-affected country – except Canada – include more rigorous feed bans, far broader testing programs, and more s extensive programs for removing high-risk tissues known as Specified Risk Materials (SRMs) than OIE recommended.

"For example, every country in the world where BSE has been detected has implemented a mandatory BSE testing program for all high-risk cattle, with most countries also mandating testing for cattle over a certain age that enter the food chain," Bullard explained. "Also, every country in the world has, at a minimum, required SRM removal from cattle over 12 months of age, and all of these countries have taken additional measures to prevent cross-contamination of ruminant feed, including the implementation of a ruminant feed ban, and this, of course, reflects the desire of these countries to maximize food safety based on the most current scientific information available."

Because OIE standards are not enforceable, some countries – like the United States and Canada – have argued that OIE rules are not actually standards, but in fact guidelines, designed to allow flexibility for countries like Canada, which restricted the age of cattle eligible for export as a risk-mitigation measure.

USDA’s, and subsequently, OIE’s proclivity to compromise the pre-existing OIE standards was highlighted within R-CALF USA’s Jan. 10, 2005, lawsuit against the agency, particularly when no other major exporting countries except the United States and Mexico bought into the notion that Canada should be classified as a BSE minimal-risk country. R-CALF USA claimed the risk category associated with the least stringent risk-mitigation measures was reserved for countries that had an effectively enforced feed ban in place for the previous eight years. Both USDA and Canada have claimed that OIE’s pre-existing standards were not standards, but only guidelines, and this attitude has politicized those standards.

"The new OIE recommendation to allow boneless-beef trade from cattle under 30 months of age is actually a stricter standard than pre-existing OIE standards," Bullard said. "OIE has, in the past, encouraged trade even with high-risk BSE countries for deboned fresh meat ‘obtained from animals over nine months of age’ without any maximum age limit, and so it seems the new guidelines appear to recognize a greater risk in cattle over 30 months of age than was recognized under the pre-existing guidelines."

How the new OIE standards will affect countries like Canada remains to be seen, as it will depend on what risk-mitigation measures must be applied during the deboning process of cattle younger than 30 months of age. Pre-existing OIE guidelines recommended the removal of the following SRMs before deboning: the skull, brain, eyes, tonsils, spinal cord, vertebral column and intestines. But the U.S. presently only requires Canada to remove the brain, tonsils, small intestine, and spinal cord from cattle used to produce the boxed beef that is now entering the United States in record volumes.

"However, USDA’s Final Rule doesn’t even require brains and spinal cord to be removed from cattle under 30 months of age," Bullard noted.

R-CALF USA is looking forward to assessing the details of the new OIE changes so it can determine the applicability to Canada’s present BSE situation and the impact on Japan’s 2004 decision not to accept beef from the U.S. unless that product can be verified as from cattle either under the known age of detectable BSE infection or from cattle subject to a BSE test.

"R-CALF will continue to defend the science-based safety practices needed to adequately protect our U.S. herd health and we will continue to fight to ensure the products we provide our U.S. and foreign customers meet the safety standards they deserve," Bullard concluded.

# # #

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. R-CALF USA, a national, non-profit organization, is dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA’s membership consists primarily of cow-calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and feedlot owners. Its members – over 16,700 strong – are located in 48 states, and the organization has over 60 local and state association affiliates, from both cattle and farm organizations. Various main street businesses are associate members of R-CALF USA. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.

http://www.foodconsumer.org/777/8/OIE_Rule_Change_Could_Undermine_Health_and_Safety_Import_Standards_to_Protect_Against_BSE.shtml

TSS



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