WASHINGTON – Public review and comment are being sought by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on a proposal to complete efforts to modernize the agency’s import regulations as they relate to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

This proposal intends to bring the agency’s import regulations in line with science-based, international animal health standards, said Dr. John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer. “As we continue to protect the health of the US cattle industry, this proposal will also assist us in future negotiations to reopen important trade markets that remain closed to US beef,” he added.

The proposed rule would allow for the safe trade of additional bovines and bovine products, however, import control is just one of several interlocking safeguards against BSE. Other measures currently in place in the US would not be changed by the proposed rule.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supported the move, saying non-tariff trade barriers hindered trade of US beef.

“NCBA has been pushing for this rule since the first case of BSE was detected in the United States in December 2003," said Kent Bacus, NCBA associate director of Legislative Affairs. "This has been a long time coming and we certainly welcome USDA’s announcement.

"Quite simply, this proposed rule will show the United States is willing to talk the talk and walk the walk with regard to following international standards developed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)," he added.

Regarding animal health, safeguard measures include the US Food and Drug Administration's ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban and a BSE surveillance program. Human health is protected by measures designed to ensure US beef safety. The ban on animal materials that could carry the BSE agent (known as specified risk materials) from the food supply is the most important measure.

APHIS, according to the proposed rule, would adopt the same criteria and categories used by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to determine a country’s BSE risk status — negligible, controlled and undetermined risk. The agency would base its import policy for each country on that country’s risk classification according to OIE’s risk evaluation. APHIS would also be allowed under the rule to conduct its own assessment when deemed necessary, such as when a country is not yet classified by the OIE for BSE risk and requests that APHIS conduct a risk evaluation using criteria equivalent to that used by OIE.

Unless officially recognized as either negligible or controlled risk, all countries would be considered by APHIS to have an undetermined BSE risk.

OIE determines a country’s risk status based on measures the country took to manage the risk of BSE. Such actions include instituting a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling animal and animal product imports from countries of undetermined risk and undergoing appropriate surveillance.

Based on the latest science and current knowledge regarding BSE, the OIE Code provides guidelines for safely trading animals and products based on the country’s risk status and the risk presented by the specific item being traded. Under the Code, boneless beef, for example, is considered to be lower risk and could be safely imported regardless of the BSE status of the exporting country. However, live animals present a higher risk and OIE guidelines recommend import requirements be applied depending on the BSE risk classification of the exporting country. In the US, imported commodities would also need to meet entry requirements for other diseases, where applicable.

This action is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register within a week. The proposed rule is currently available at www.aphis.usda.gov.