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American Meat Institute Calls for Complete Restoration of Cattle and Beef Trade with Canada

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Washington, D.C. - The American Meat Institute (AMI) today urged USDA to promulgate a rule that will fully reestablish trade for cattle, beef and beef products produced in BSE minimal risk regions like Canada - a step that is warranted under international guidelines established by the Office of International Epizootics (OIE). The Institute made its statement in comments submitted today to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on a proposal that would expand allowable imports from nations such as Canada to include beef from older animals, but not the animals themselves.

“The extensive array of risk mitigation measures implemented in the United States following the detection of BSE in an imported cow in Washington State dictate an expansion of the proposal,” AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges said. “Limiting importation of live cattle to those animals less than 30 months of age and restricting the importation to specified beef and offal products is without a scientific foundation.”

In its comments, AMI said that BSE prevention and control measures implemented since Dec. 23, 2003, when the first case of BSE within U.S. borders was announced, provide additional protection to the U.S. cattle population and greatly improve the integrity and safety of the American food supply. New risk mitigation measures implemented since that time require that all known potentially infectious tissues be removed from the food supply, prohibit higher risk non-ambulatory cattle from being slaughtered and dramatically expand the U.S. cattle testing and surveillance program.

“Prohibiting the importation of cattle that are 30 months of age and older, while at the same time permitting the importation of beef derived from the same animals, is intellectually inconsistent. It also calls into question USDA's ability to enforce its own regulations,” Hodges said. “A policy prohibiting the importation of cattle 30 months and older incorrectly suggests that SRM removal can be effectively accomplished in a foreign country to render beef safe, but U.S. slaughterers may not be capable of effectively performing the same procedures.”

According to AMI, U.S. beef processors have suffered substantial economic damage over the past several months and fully restoring cattle and beef trade in North America will be a critical step to preventing further equity losses in the industry, enhancing U.S. competitiveness in an increasingly global market and protecting jobs in the United States.

“Overwhelmingly, the scientific evidence demonstrates that food safety is not dependent on the age of the animal, but whether or not specified risk materials (SRMs) that may contain the infectious agent have been removed and eliminated from the human food supply,” Hodges wrote. “Both the U.S. and Canadian governments now require the hygienic removal of all known potentially infectious material (SRMs) from the food supply thereby assuring the safety of the entire beef supply.”

AMI also noted that the Food and Drug Administration recently announced measures to expand its feed restrictions, which strengthen the firewalls in place to prevent the possible introduction of the BSE agent into the cattle population. “The importation of cattle for slaughter that are 30 months of age and older do not, in any way, increase the likelihood of BSE occurring in U.S. cattle,” Hodges said.

AMI said OIE guidelines permit cattle, beef and offal to be traded in international commerce, even from high BSE risk countries, if the exporting country implements appropriate BSE risk mitigation measures. Permitting cattle 30 months and older to be imported into the U.S. for slaughter from BSE minimal risk regions would be consistent with OIE guidelines. In addition, permitting the importation of all beef and beef products from which SRMs have been hygienically removed is consistent with OIE guidelines. Indeed, maintaining the existing limitations on importation of certain cattle and beef products would be wholly inconsistent with international standards.

According to the Institute, complete control of the cattle can be assured by requiring movement under government seal as described in the APHIS proposal. In the unlikely event an imported animal is diagnosed with BSE at a slaughter establishment, a direct link to the foreign source can be immediately established, AMI said. As an additional safeguard, USDA regulations now require that if an animal is tested at slaughter, the carcass and parts cannot be passed for human food until a negative test result is obtained.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Sr. VP, Public Affairs
Ayoka Blandford
Manager, Public Affairs

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