USDA adjusts mad cow rules

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued new regulations Friday that align the federal protections against mad cow disease with international standards.

The long-awaited rule, issued by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), drew praise from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who said it would help to open more international markets to U.S. beef products.

The APHIS rule for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, uses internationally accepted trade standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Those standards will require APHIS to tailor its import policy for foreign countries on their risk classification, as determined the OIE.

The regulation, which will take effect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, also allows APHIS to conduct its own assessments.

“Making these changes will further demonstrate to our trading partners our commitment to international standards and sound science, and we are hopeful it will help open new markets and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products,” said Dr. John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer.

Some countries have prohibited imports of U.S. cattle over 30 months old, basing the trade barriers on the absence of a comprehensive regulation hewing to international standards.

Among them is Mexico, traditionally one of the largest export markets for U.S. beef. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the restriction is costing U.S. beef producers $100 million a year.

Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the regulation would help break down crucial trade barriers for American beef.

“Today’s actions will ensure U.S. beef producers can operate on a more level playing field and help grow our agriculture economy,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who had called since at least February of 2012 for the agency to act, also heralded the development. He said the new regulations would strengthen both the American industry’s position and that of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“Beef producers have been waiting years for the Department of Agriculture to issue the BSE comprehensive rule,” Grassley said in a statement. “When nations base their decisions on sound science, more markets will be expanded or opened to U.S. beef.” 

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