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U.S. Cattle Groups Respond to Upgraded BSE Classification

The World Organization for Animal Health announces the U.S. is officially a 'controlled risk' country for BSE.

At its general session meetings in Paris Tuesday, the World Organization for Animal Health announced that it would formally reclassify the U.S. as a 'controlled risk' country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. A major U.S. cattle group and meat institute say "about time," while another cattle group wants a better classification.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association issued a statement saying its members are "pleased" with the decision by the international veterinary body, known by its French initials as the OIE.

NCBA Chief Economist Gregg Doud says the decision should pressure foreign markets to open to U.S. beef. According to USDA, 18 countries still have bans on U.S. beef, reaching back to the late 2003 discovery of a case of BSE in the U.S.

"It is simply unacceptable for such trade barriers to cause further economic damage to our industry," Doud says. "We expect this OIE categorization to trigger the lifting of long-standing political barriers to our products in various international markets."

The American Meat Institute said in a statement that it was "gratified" by the OIE's decision, and issued a more diplomatic request for the reopening of foreign markets: "We hope that this affirmation of the health of U.S. cattle herds and the safety of U.S. beef will give our trading partners full confidence."

Meanwhile, for R-CALF USA, the new classification is simply not enough. The group issued a statement disparaging "OIE's decision to lump the United States and Canada into the same risk category." While the group believes the U.S. deserved to receive the higher classification, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard says USDA should seek the OIE's top BSE designation, that of a 'negligible risk.'

"Under a negligible risk, the most favorable designation of the OIE, a country cannot have had a BSE case born in the previous 11 years," Bullard says. "The younger of the two BSE cases detected in the U.S. was determined to be 10 years old, and this was more than a year ago. Therefore, as of today, the youngest case detected in the U.S. was born more than 11 years ago, meeting the standard for a BSE negligible risk country."

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