ACCORDING to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Scientific Commission of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has recommended that the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) risk classification for the U.S. be upgraded to "negligible."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "I am very pleased with this decision and recommendation by the OIE's Scientific Commission. This is a significant achievement for the U.S., 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."
Last year, the U.S. submitted an application and supporting information to the OIE Scientific Commission to upgrade the U.S.'s risk classification from controlled to negligible. The OIE commission, in turn, conducted a thorough review before recommending that the risk classification for the U.S. be upgraded to negligible, USDA said.
"Being classified as negligible risk for BSE by OIE will also greatly support our efforts to increase exports of U.S. beef and beef products. In recommending that the U.S. 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.
Before OIE's annual General Assembly meeting in Paris, France, in May, delegate countries will have the opportunity to review the commission's recommendation. The U.S. expects that formal adoption of the negligible risk status will occur at the May meeting when it is considered.
Negligible risk is the lowest risk level under the OIE Code. Countries defined as negligible risk have conducted extensive surveillance and testing in domestic cattle to demonstrate a minimal risk for BSE.
According to OIE, countries currently listed as negligible risk include: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Sweden and Uruguay.
Countries at controlled risk include: Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, U.K. and U.S.
OIE's official recognition of the disease status of member countries is of great significance for international trade and constitutes one of the most important links between OIE and the World Trade Organization.
USDA explained that OIE determines a country's risk status based on actions the country has taken to manage the risk of the disease. These actions include instituting a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling imports of animals and animal products from countries at risk for BSE and conducting appropriate surveillance.
The U.S. has a long-standing system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE to protect public and animal health, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials from all animals presented for slaughter. The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. The third safeguard is an ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population.
Vilsack added that the U.S. "continues to press for normalization of beef trade with several nations."
Several cattle and meat industry groups, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., United States Cattlemen's Assn., American Meat Institute and North American Meat Assn., applauded the OIE recommendation and commended USDA for its efforts in achieving the upgraded BSE status.