The U.S. Department of Agriculture today will propose a rule to align its import guidelines on mad cow disease with international standards, in an effort to boost overseas sales of U.S. beef.
Under the plan, the agency would adopt the same criteria used by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health to identify a country’s risk status for mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Some trading partners have cited inconsistencies between U.S. and international standards as reason to maintain restrictions on American beef imposed after the first U.S. mad-cow case in 2003.
The changes will “assist in future negotiations to reopen important trade markets that remain closed to U.S. beef,” the USDA said in a document obtained by Bloomberg News describing the plan. The department scheduled a conference call later today in Washington with its chief veterinarian, John Clifford, to announce the proposal.
Dozens of countries banned U.S. beef after the first case of BSE was found in December 2003, causing exports to fall 84 percent in the following year, according to the International Trade Commission. Nations including Japan and China have maintained restrictions ever since. Losses to livestock producers and meatpackers including Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. ranged from $2.5 billion to $3.1 billion annually from 2004 through 2007, the ITC has said.
A rule aligning the U.S. with international import standards would make it easier for negotiators to persuade other countries to follow the same rules and open markets to American beef, a bipartisan group of 31 senators wrote the White House and the USDA last month.
The sooner such a plan is adopted, “the sooner we will be able to give our international negotiators this important tool,” the senators, including Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, said in the letter.
The American Meat Institute, a trade group representing meatpackers including Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and JBS Swift & Co., said it had not seen the plan. Still, “using internationally recognized, science-based standards as the basis for trade facilitates exports and imports,” benefiting consumers and producers, J. Patrick Boyle, the group’s president, said in an e-mail.
The U.S. exported $11.9 billion of red meat last year, more than double the $5.4 billion in imports, according to USDA data.
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