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US Promotes Importance Of International Beef-Safety Ruling

02 May 2007

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is making a hard sell to beef-importing countries: Listen to an organization most know only by its French acronym - the OIE - and accept that mad-cow worries should be a thing of the past when buying U.S. beef.

Praise from U.S. officials for the OIE, or World Organization for Animal Health, continues to mount as the day draws near when its 168 members will vote on a recommendation that the U.S. get a favorable rating for keeping its beef supply free from mad-cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy - an always-fatal brain-wasting disease. Humans can contract variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, which is linked to eating BSE-tainted beef.

The U.S. has invested far more than the $160,000 in annual OIE dues it pays as part of its effort to receive a supportive international status as well as more ammunition to shoot down trade restrictions.

If the OIE recommendation is approved - and many expect it will be - government officials such as U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns expect the result to act as a "catalyst," freeing up beef markets in big importing countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Speaking at a recent gathering of reporters, USDA's Johanns roped the OIE in with the World Trade Organization as examples of international bodies designed to bring order to trade: "International standards mean something. As members of the WTO, we agree to abide by an international approach to things like beef trade."

The USDA made a massive submission to the OIE in October last year containing exhaustive descriptions of what the government agency has done to increase monitoring for the disease, prevent it from being able to spread in cattle herds and keep it out of the human food supply, according to government officials. After months of review, the OIE's Scientific Commission recommended in February that the U.S. get a favorable, or "controlled," BSE rating. The OIE considers ratings only for member countries that go through this process.

The upcoming mid-May vote on the recommendation, USDA's Johanns said recently, will be an "opportune time ... for Korea and Japan and China and others to recognize that classification. Under that classification we would be able to ship beef into those market places."

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Source: AgricultureOnline


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