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AMI Urges USDA Secretary Veneman to Lead Effort to Reestablish North American Beef Trade Immediately

Thursday, February 26, 2004

NOTE TO MEDIA: AMI will host a BSE media availability Friday (Feb.) 27 at 11 a.m. Eastern Time with AMI President J. Patrick Boyle and AMI Foundation President James Hodges to respond to questions regarding BSE. To access the call, dial 1-888-456-0013 and ask for the "AMI call.”

For Immediate Release:

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 26, 2004 -- In a letter sent today to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the American Meat Institute (AMI) urged the Agriculture Department to move quickly to reestablish trade in cattle, beef and beef products produced in BSE minimal risk countries such as Canada and to lead an effort to fully harmonize the rules governing such trade throughout North America.

AMI, whose membership represents about 90 percent of all U.S. beef packing and processing, urged USDA to "take a leadership role" and utilize its statutory authority to enact "a full restoration of trade" in cattle, beef and beef products among all three North American countries, according to accepted, scientifically sound guidelines set by the Office of International Epizootics (OIE) for countries at minimal risk of BSE.

"The U. S. Department of Agriculture has the authority to make this happen now," said AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle. "We call upon USDA to take the critical first step that can set a global process in motion: lead the international community in rational BSE policies by bringing American policies into conformance with those set by OIE.”

In the letter, Boyle said that AMI agreed with recommendations from an international scientific review team that evaluated the department's BSE investigation and control measures. The review team’s report recommended that the United States lead the international community in establishing rational BSE policies by bringing U.S. trade policies into conformance with those set by OIE. Under OIE guidelines, AMI noted that cattle and beef trade is permitted under certain conditions even among nations that have diagnosed BSE cases. AMI said that existing limitations on Canadian imports were "without a foundation in science."

"There is a terrible irony in the fact that the U.S. requirements imposed on Canada in 2003 are the very precedents preventing U.S. beef exports to Mexico today," Boyle said.

AMI also rejected the unscientific requirements sought by certain trading partners, such as calls for testing all cattle for BSE or requests for removal of additional SRMs, saying they are neither supported by science nor required under international standards.

The letter noted that since the Dec. 23, 2003, confirmation of a single positive case of BSE, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have implemented extraordinary new measures to strengthen the firewalls protecting animal health and maintaining beef safety. For example, so-called SRMs have been removed from the food supply in both Canada and the United States; higher-risk non-ambulatory cattle are now prohibited from the food supply; and BSE surveillance has been increased dramatically.

As a result, the industry called on USDA to exercise "the full range of its authority" to immediately reestablish beef trade in North America.

"Until the United States exhibits leadership by reopening the Canadian border to cattle and beef and beef products in a manner that conforms with OIE standards, it is unrealistic to expect that other countries will afford any similar access opportunities for American ranchers and processors," Boyle said. "We strongly believe that the time for incremental half-measures, which fall far short of existing OIE norms and scientific rationale, has long since passed."

In its letter, AMI noted that the U.S. cattle production and beef-packing sectors have incurred substantial equity and job loss, due to the closure of global markets to U.S. beef. Continuation of the status quo will only exacerbate those economic dislocations.

The full text of AMI’s letter to USDA Secretary Veneman is now available at http://www.meatinstitute.org on the Animal Health section of Food Safety/Inspection.

For more information contact:
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Senior VP, Public Affairs

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