With a few exceptions, our international trading partners have not overreacted to last-week’s discovery of an atypical case of BSE in a U.S. dairy cow. Speaking with AgriTalk Radio host Mike Adams on Monday, U.S. Meat Export Federation president and CEO Phil Seng said only one country – Indonesia – has officially blocked imports of U.S. beef. The government of Thailand, meanwhile, has publicly stated its intention to ban U.S. beef, but has not officially informed U.S. officials of such action.
In South Korea, Seng says, the market for U.S. beef remains open. The only action the government has taken is to increase inspections of imported beef from 3 percent to 50 percent. Demand for U.S. beef in Korea has dropped, however, as one major retailer has stopped stocking U.S. beef and others, while continuing to stock it, have stopped promoting it. A problem in South Korea is that the media is, up to this point, “doing their own investigation” of the issue, in the absence of an official statement from the Korean government or a final epidemiological report from the United States. Once that report becomes available, which Seng expects to occur soon, the Korean media will lose some of their ability to stir up emotional responses.
Response in Japan has been very positive, Seng says. The Japanese people awoke last Tuesday to the news of the BSE case, and by 10 A.M. local time, the government had announced it would not make any changes in its policy for U.S. beef imports. Japanese officials also indicated this case would not affect the country’s current evaluation of its restriction on importing U.S. beef from cattle 20 months or older, potentially leading to looser restrictions with a 30-month age limit.
Seng says there has been no significant reduction in U.S. beef sales in Japan or resistance from retailers.
Overall, Seng says, the international response to this case has been tremendously different from the immediate shutdown in exports after the initial U.S. case of BSE in 2003. A major difference is that most of our trading partners have agreed to abide by the guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) regarding BSE. These agreements stipulate that countries will not change their import policies for U.S. beef unless our OIE status as a “controlled risk” country is downgraded. Based on the scientific facts behind this latest BSE case, the OIE has left our risk status unchanged. So, if governments use this BSE case to create trade barriers, the United States has options for recourse, on scientific grounds, through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The OIE, and most of our trading partners, recognize that of the four cases of BSE discovered in the United States over the past nine years, only one was of the “classical” strain attributed to feed. The other three, including last week’s case, were “atypical” or sporadic cases. In addition, the California cow discovered to have BSE in this latest case was delivered to a rendering plant, with no part of it entering the food supply.
Our surveillance system targets older cattle with a potential for BSE and exceeds OIE recommendations by 100 times, Seng says. Internationally, health officials recognize that the system is working.
The next step in international markets, Seng says, is to win back public confidence in U.S. beef. Already, the USMEF is working with the Beef Checkoff and USDA’s Foreign Market Development Program to communicate with the international media, bloggers and consumers to inform them about BSE and the safeguards the United States employs to assure the safety of U.S. beef.