US proposes lifting EU beef ban

A US government department’s proposal to lift the restriction on beef imports from the EU has been greeted with muted optimism by the UK beef industry.

Last week (9 March) the US Dept of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed changes to federal import regulations for bovine products, which could allow the import of products that are currently restricted.

It said that scientific knowledge and international guidelines show that boneless beef does not present a risk of BSE transmission, and advocated the adoption of the same criteria and categories that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) uses to identify a country’s BSE risk status.

If the draft bill is passed, this could potentially open up the US export market to European producers, the latest development in a series of steps to liberalise trade between the US and EU.

Dr. John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer, said: “This proposal is an important step forward in our efforts to bring our import regulations in line with science-based, international animal health standards.

“The proposal will help ensure we continue to provide strong protections against BSE, continue to make science-based decisions, and fully support safe trade in bovine commodities. As we continue to protect the health of the US cattle industry, this proposal will also assist us in future negotiations to reopen important trade markets that remain closed to US beef.”

However, Eblex’s head of trade development, Peter Hardwick, said that the potential of this bilateral EU/US process lies in the positive message it sends to existing and potential trading partners, rather than in the opening up trade with the US itself.

He said: “The crucial point to remember is that the US is saying it is going to look at the EU’s BSE status. There is no lifting of the ban as such at this stage, although clearly a positive outcome may lead to a lifting of restrictions.

“However, looking at the wider picture, many of our potential trading partners take their lead from the US. Lifting of restrictions and recognition of equivalent status will certainly help in negotiations with countries in the Far East, for example.”
“An important point to remember is that we never did any beef trade to the US before BSE. It is unlikely we will do anything substantial now, although there may be some high value meat export opportunities.

“All plants wanting to export would still have to go through lengthy and complex USDA approval. At present, no UK plants are USDA-approved.

The NFU said it was a “positive development”. Chief livestock adviser Peter Garbutt said: “The beef industry has gone through a difficult number of years but since 2006 more export markets have opened and beef exports have increased year on year driving returns for producers.

“This move would open up further export opportunities for UK producers and I believe we can be positive and optimistic about our market prospects in the future”.

Joanne Pugh, assistant director of the National Beef Association, welcomed the news. She said: “It is not just that the USA would be an interesting new export market for British beef, it is the acknowledgement by yet another country that beef from the UK is some of the safest and highest-quality anywhere in the world.

“With BSE long behind us, more and more export certificates are being signed. In fact 37 non-EU countries opened their doors last year alone, so the USA will join a long list of countries that have acknowledged what the UK has to offer in terms of traceability, high welfare standards, environmental credentials and taste.

“With beef supplies tightening all the time, we are operating on an increasing global platform. The more countries we can export to, the wider our portfolio of products sold and carcases utilised, which can only be good news for farmers in the UK.”

In February, the US and EU formally signed an agreement which agreed that products certified as organic in either the US or the EU could be sold as organic in either market.