U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday praised a recommendation from the World Organization for Animal Health that the U.S. risk classification for BSE be upgraded from controlled to negligible. The U.S. submitted the application for upgrade last year.
"I am very pleased with this decision and recommendation by the OIE's Scientific Commission," Vilsack said in a press statement. "Being classified as negligible risk for BSE by the OIE will also greatly support our efforts to increase exports of U.S. beef and beef products."
In recommending that the United States receive negligible risk classification, the Commission said that the risk assessments submitted for their evaluation were robust and comprehensive, and that surveillance for, and safeguards against, BSE are strong.
Vilsack said that U.S. beef and beef products are produced to the highest safety standards in the world, and the U.S. would continue to press for normalization of beef trade with several nations in a manner that is based on science and consistent with international standards.
"The U.S. beef industry has worked with government officials and scientists to implement multiple interlocking safeguards to prevent BSE from taking hold in our country," National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bob McCan said in a press statement. "Being classified as negligible risk for BSE by the OIE is proof that these safeguards are working and protecting the public and animal health against BSE."
OIE delegate countries will review the recommendation and likely make a final ruling this May.
Negligible risk is lowest level
Negligible risk is the lowest risk level under the OIE Code. Countries defined as negligible risk have conducted extensive surveillance and testing in domestic cattle to demonstrate a minimal risk for BSE.
The OIE determines a country's risk status based on actions the country has taken to manage the risk of the disease. These actions include instituting a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling imports of animals and animal products from countries at risk for the disease, and conducting appropriate surveillance.
The OIE Code provides guidelines for the safe trade of animals and products based on the country's risk status and the risk presented by the specific item being traded.
With a total of 178 Member Countries, including the United States, the OIE is recognized as a reference organization by the World Trade Organization. Therefore, the official recognition of disease status by OIE Member Countries is of great significance for international trade and constitutes one of the most important links between the OIE and WTO.
U.S. safeguards protect animal health
The United States has a longstanding system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health in the United States, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials from all animals presented for slaughter. The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. The third safeguard is the ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population.