Import Rule May Weaken Mad Cow Safeguards

While U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are reassuring U.S. consumers that department safeguards are working to protect the country from a mad cow epidemic some groups are arguing that the USDA’s efforts to expand trade could hurt consumer protections.

Last March, the USDA proposed adopting new import rules that were more in line with regulations adopted by the World Organization for Animal Health. The proposed rules would put U.S. trade regulations more in line with international partners and would likely increase American beef exports. However, some food safety organizations have claimed that the new rules would weaken mad cow safeguards and could lead to the United States importing beef from countries that do not have effective ruminant-to-ruminant feed bans.

Feed bans remain one of the most important tools in preventing mad cow disease from spreading. A ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban prohibits the feeding of most mammalian-derived proteins to other cattle. Before the spread of bans, cattle feed often-contained animal products, including meat and bone meal, a byproduct of the rendering industry. These feeds led to the rapid spread of mad cow and the eventual epidemic that hit countries like the United Kingdom. The ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feed had been crucial to reducing the outbreaks of mad cow.

The proposed rule change, some food safety groups argue, would do away with safeguards limiting trade with countries without these bans in place, replacing it instead with OIE guidelines that evaluate risk based on a number of factors.

USDA officials and leaders of the beef industry, however, believe that the rule change, which still allows the U.S. to block importation of beef it feels does not meet safety standards, will not weaken mad cow safeguards.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer