WASHINGTON – The United States was among five countries recognized by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) as having a negligible risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands and Slovenia had a negligible risk, while Bulgaria and Costa Rica were found to have “controlled risk” status, according to the OIE.

A dairy cow at a California rendering facility tested positive for BSE in April 2012. The US Department of Agriculture reported that the cow was never intended for human consumption, and at no time was the food supply or human health at risk. At the time, USDA said safeguards against BSE worked.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA)said the vote was a significant achievement for the US, beef producers and federal and state partners who collaborated on this issue.

“With the implementation of multiple interlocking safeguards by the US beef industry and our partners, we have successfully been able to prevent BSE from becoming a threat to the US beef supply, which remains the safest in the world,” said Bob McCan, president-elect of the NCBA. “The vote by the OIE, an internationally recognized, standard-setting body, is proof that the science-based mitigation measures in place in the United States effectively protect our public and animal health.”

The American Meat Institute (AMI) also welcomed the news. AMI said “negligible risk” is the lowest risk level under the OIE animal health code, and countries with that status have implemented robust BSE controls and done extensive surveillance of cattle herds.

“We are gratified OIE has recognized the health of the US cattle herd and the safety of our beef supply,” said J. Patrick Boyle, AMI president. “This recognition affirms our two decades of industry, government and scientific community collaboration to protect our cattle and produce safe, wholesome beef products for consumers worldwide.”

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said exports of US beef and beef products totaled $5.5 billion in 2012. The negligible risk classification from the OIE gives the US a strong foundation to advance exports of US beef and beef products.

“I am very pleased with OIE's decision to grant the United States negligible risk status for BSE,” Vilsack said. “This is a significant achievement that has been many years in the making for the United States, American beef producers and businesses, and federal and state partners who work together to maintain a system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protect our public and animal health.

“This decision demonstrates OIE's belief that both our surveillance for, and safeguards against, BSE are strong,” he added. “US beef and beef products are of the highest-quality, wholesome and produced to the highest safety standards in the world.”

Philip Seng, president and CEO of the US Meat Export Federation said, “This decision by the OIE should clear away any remaining concerns that some countries have about the risk associated with importing beef and beef products from the United States. We think the decision announced by the OIE today should provide a number of beef importing countries with a reason to reevaluate their requirements for beef imports from the United States.”