U.S. aligns beef rules with global mad cow standards


WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The United States on Fridayissued new import rules for cattle and beef that will complywith international standards for the prevention of mad cowdisease, saying the step could ultimately boost U.S. beefexports.

The European Union said the U.S. move would bring a welcomere-opening of a market closed to its beef since January 1998.

Lawmakers and industry groups also welcomed the news, sayingit would help the United States regain access to markets thathave been closed for decades.

World trade in beef was jolted in the 1980s by the discoveryof mad cow disease, a fatal brain-wasting disease in cattle,formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Many nationsrestricted imports, some of which remain in place, out of fearof a human version of the illness.

"Making these changes will further demonstrate to ourtrading partners our commitment to international standards andsound science, and we are hopeful it will help open new marketsand remove remaining restrictions on U.S. products," said USDAchief veterinarian John Clifford.

As an example of the new revisions, the U.S. Department ofAgriculture said boneless beef could be imported becauseresearch has shown the meat poses a negligible risk of mad cowdisease. Until now, imports were restricted from most nationsthat had reported a case of the disease.

The USDA said the new revisions, which will be published incoming days and take effect 90 days afterward, would not weakenU.S. safeguards.

"This effort is crucial to breaking down other countries'unfounded trade barriers, and re-opening trade markets that areclosed to U.S. beef," said Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of theSenate Agriculture Committee.

Stabenow said Mexico employed a non-scientific limit on U.S.cattle exports by refusing to allow entry of animals over 30months of age. She said U.S. producers lose an estimated $100million a year because of the limit.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the new ruleswere "great news for the U.S. cattle industry and integral toour efforts to further expand international trade."

In a fact sheet, USDA said the changes "could convince othercountries to remove any remaining restrictions on U.S. cattleand cattle products." The rules bring USDA in line with theguidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health, known byits French acronym of OIE.

On May 29, the OIE gave the United States its safestclassification for mad cow, negligible risk.

U.S. officials have struggled for more than a decade to openmarkets that were restricted following discovery of the firstU.S. case of the disease.

The United States is among the world's largest importer andexporter of beef. Roughly 10 percent of U.S. beef is exported,while imports make up nearly 10 percent of the U.S. supply.Imports tend to be ground beef and lower-cost cuts of beef whilethe exports are high-value cuts.

Still, a small ranchers' group, R-CALF, said USDA said itdoubted the safety of beef from Europe and called for retentionof a country-of-origin meat-labeling law currently under attackin Congress.

The United States uses three interlocking safeguards againstmad cow. Feed for cattle and other ruminants can not contain"rendered" parts of ruminants. USDA runs a surveillance andtesting program for mad cow. And meatpackers are required toremove from carcasses brains, spinal cords, nervous tissue andother materials that could be infected.

Mad cow, with an incubation period of years, is primarily adisease of older cattle.

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