USDA praises lowered US threat of mad cow disease

"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," he said.

The determination at the OIE's general assembly meeting in Paris comes three months after the organization's scientific commission recommended down-grading the risk of U.S. mad cow disease.

Bob McCan, president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, praised the announcement as "very positive news for U.S. cattle producers."

Last year the Obama administration submitted an application to reduce the organization's determination of the threat from American beef from "controlled."

The 178-country OIE determines animal health and safety status based on actions a country has taken to manage risks of disease. U.S. regulators use three steps to mitigate the risk of mad cow disease: removing parts of animals that could contain the disease from cattle presented for slaughter, a feed ban to protect against some risky proteins and an ongoing surveillance program to detect low levels of BSE.

The U.S. exported $5.5 billion worth of beef and beef products last year, a number that Vilsack predicted would rise with the declared treat reduction.

Mad cow disease is a fatal neurological disorder that affects the brains and spinal cords of cattle and can be transmitted to humans who eat their beef. There have been four identified cases of the disease in the United States since 2003.