Industry’s BSE Briefing sends clear message: ‘Restore beef trade

by 5m Editor
4 February 2004, at 12:00am

WASHINGTON, D.C - As more than 250 industry officials, scientists and regulatory authorities gathered here in the nation’s capital today for a day-long seminar on BSE developments, a resounding consensus was reached on the need to move quickly to restore international trade in U.S. beef products.

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The event's co-sponsors, the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), called the federal government’s response to the single case of BSE in Washington state “extraordinary,“ noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration had increased surveillance, enacted new feed restrictions and launched a fast-track program to develop a national animal identification and traceback system.

"These measures go well beyond what is called for under international standards,“ said AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle. “They reflect the U.S. government’s commitment to reassuring consumers and trading partners that we are doing everything possible to protect U.S. herds from this animal disease.“

In opening remarks to an audience of industry and regulatory officials from more than a dozen countries, Boyle stressed that, “a single case of BSE does not constitute an epidemic“ and should not result in "the isolation of U.S. beef from international trade."

Boyle said that the OIE standards “must show the way“ on resumption of beef exports, and urged U.S. trading partners to focus on “the real risks, versus the perceived ones.“

NCBA officials emphasized that BSE is an animal disease -- not a food-safety issue. “The measures USDA put in place since Dec. 23 [2003] have strengthened our firewalls and provided additional assurances that U.S. beef is safe,“ said Terry Stokes, NCBA executive director.

Later, during a special press conference, U.S. Meat Export Federation Vice President Lynn Heinze noted that members of all beef industry segments have stood “shoulder to shoulder“ on the issue of restoring trade. “We have taken aggressive action to control BSE in this country," he noted, "and we are now calling on our trading partners to lift the ban on U.S. beef.“

Ron DeHaven, D.V.M., APHIS deputy administrator for veterinary services, opened the "U.S. Situation and Response" portion of the BSE Briefing, which also included segments on OIE standards, trade and export issues and industry and media reaction to the new BSE regulations. DeHaven summarized the government's response to the now-infamous Dec. 23 confirmation of a BSE-positive cow in three categories: consumer confidence, cattle prices and export markets.

DeHaven explained that USDA's catchphrase, "an abundance of caution," was used so often because BSE is not a food safety issue. Therefore, the cautious approach was targeted toward preserving consumer confidence in the food supply, which has remained high throughout this situation. He expressed concern, however, that some actions taken by USDA under the premise of consumer confidence could be misconstrued as being "inconsistent with the science."

Importantly, DeHaven noted that the report from the international team reviewing USDA's epidemiologic investigation of the single case of BSE is due to be submitted tomorrow (Feb. 4). All indications are that the report would be made available to the public by late afternoon, signifying the end of USDA's investigation and the beginning of the hoped-for response by U.S. trading partners.

On the trade front, DeHaven echoed the sentiments that government and industry officials expressed throughout the day: Trade bans on U.S. beef are not founded on science and thus are inconsistent with the OIE Code, which identifies the proper response to a finding of isolated BSE based on accepted risk assessment guidelines.

Dr. Lester Crawford, FDA deputy commissioner, followed DeHaven to the podium and delivered an overview of the new feed-related regulations enacted by his agency in the last week. Crawford said the new regulations flowed from recommendations made by FDA's Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Committee and emphasized the agency’s conformance on FDA-regulated foods with new BSE regulations enacted by USDA for meat and poultry products.

With regard to FDA's new restrictions banning poultry litter, plate waste and blood products from feed and imposing new restrictions on the human blood supply and on dietary supplements, Crawford referred to them as "interim final rules." He reminded the audience of the ongoing comment period and encouraged industry submissions. Crawford also alluded to the possibility of a "grace period" for final compliance.

In conclusion, Crawford thanked the industry leadership throughout the BSE situation and expressed appreciation for the continued support of governmental actions.

"FDA vows to work with both Canada and South American nations to re-establish North American trade in beef," he promised.

Dr. Merle D. Pierson, USDA deputy under secretary for food safety, re-emphasized a point made throughout the morning: the importance of a scientific foundation when proposing BSE regulations. He attributed the high level of consumer confidence to the agency’s swift response. "We have conducted an open and transparent process," he said.

Pierson summarized USDA's actions to date as "aggressive and advanced" but emphasized that to be effective they must be coupled with collaboration among federal and state governments, industry and consumers.

Source: American Meat Institute (AMI) - 4th February 2004

5m Editor