In an attempt to portray a united North American approach to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), USDA Secretary Ann Veneman met with her Canadian and Mexican counterparts to discuss moving forward in normalizing beef trade in North America. But few questions were answered in the joint press conference, especially an unclear picture about what it would take to get Mexico to open its doors to U.S. beef.
Mexican Secretary of Agricultural Javier Usabiaga and Canada Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Bob Speller joined with Veneman in recognizing the need for closer, coordinated and harmonized approaches to BSE regulations and to address the challenges of the BSE findings in North America while still maintaining a safe food supply.
The three countries have been working together since last summer to encourage the World Health Organization's (OIE) to "develop a practical, risk-based guidance" regarding international trade once a country has found mad cow disease, Veneman says.
What is the definition of equal?
The officials agreed to the development of appropriate global incentives to further the control and eradication of the disease and will focus on, among other things, treating countries fairly and consistently if and when BSE is discovered. A reporter questioned Veneman why the U.S. expects countries, including Japan and Mexico, to drop the ban when the United States still bans imports from Japan who has one of the most stringent BSE surveillance systems in place.
She admitted that the United States has not resumed trade with any country that has found any case of mad cow, except for low-risk materials from Canada. "Trade is very complex," she says. In the case of Canada, the U.S. worked quickly and did a risk assessment and was able to resume a significant amount of trade.
She adds that when the OIE recommendations were written, Europe was dealing with a much larger outbreak. "We know much more today than we knew then," Veneman explains. That is why Veneman says her and her counterparts are approaching the OIE to get better international guidance on how to maintain and resume trade for countries that have single cases of BSE.
Mexico isn't satisfied with new regulations
The United States quickly and efficiently cracked down on many ways to further protect consumers from mad cow. But when Usabiaga was questioned when the Mexico border would open his answer raised some questions on how united this North American front really is.
The Mexican border is already open to Canadian boneless and boxed beef products. He adds, "The Mexican border will be open to U.S. beef as soon as the U.S. implements measures that they have offered to do" to the satisfaction of health and sanitation officials as well as Mexican consumers.
Veneman's immediate response was that "we have implemented all the actions that we said we were going to implement." She went on to explain that the aggressive announcements made on Dec. 30 including banning downer animals, increased surveillance without the downer population and prohibiting specified risk materials from older animals are already in place. The only delayed action that was discussed on Dec. 30 was an animal identification system that will obviously take more time to implement
Each government agreed to designate a sub-cabinet level official to coordinate the ongoing interagency efforts toward a resumption of exports based on a harmonized framework.