In separate meetings held recently with Democrat and Republican staff members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard and former R-CALF USA director David Hutchins provided a presentation that demonstrates the U.S. has given beef export markets a legitimate reason to impose strict age restrictions on U.S. beef exports to prevent the introduction of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) from being introduced into their respective countries.

“We are urging U.S. Senators to cease their efforts to gain age-limit concessions from China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and other countries that impose such restrictions until the U.S. first reinstates adequate import restrictions to stop the importation of cattle with a high risk for BSE from entering the U.S. and commingling in the U.S. cattle herd,” said Bullard.

The countries of Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Russia and Singapore all impose at least a 30-month age restriction on the cattle used to produce U.S. beef or beef products for export to their countries. These age restrictions have remained in force since December 2003, when an imported Canadian cow infected with BSE was discovered inside the U.S. border.

“For the seven years since these restrictions were put in place, the U.S. not only has failed to address those countries’ concerns, but also has deliberately heightened their concerns by relaxing its own BSE-related import restrictions below levels deemed appropriate by the rest of the world’s major beef consumers,” Bullard said.

The ongoing concerns of export countries that U.S. import standards are overly lax is evidenced by restrictions imposed by South Korea, Russia, Taiwan and Singapore, each of which either expressly prohibit the U.S. from exporting any beef derived from Canadian cattle – as in the case of Singapore – or restrict U.S. beef exports derived from Canadian cattle – as in the case of Taiwan, Russia, and South Korea. Taiwan, for example, allows only deboned beef from Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age if they were not fed for at least 100 days in the United States.

“We pointed out that the U.S. has among the weakest of import restrictions for live cattle, as the U.S. continues to allow Canadian cattle born during the time the BSE agent was known to be circulating in the Canadian cattle herd to be exported to the U.S., while countries in the European Union and
Switzerland at least require imported cattle to be born after the birth date of the last indigenous case of BSE,” Bullard explained.

“It is irresponsible and fundamentally wrong for the U.S. to use political pressure to force export markets to accept our products without first providing the assurance that the U.S. has adopted adequate BSE measures to prevent the introduction of BSE into the U.S. cattle herd,” he continued. “The problem is that we have failed to take even rudimentary steps to rebuild lost consumer confidence, as is clearly evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to prohibit private meatpackers like Creekstone Farms Premium Beef from voluntarily testing cattle for BSE.

“For the past seven years the U.S. has ignored this problem, which is that our export customers do not have confidence in our relaxed BSE import standards,” added Bullard. “The solution to this problem is not to twist our export customers’ arms, but rather to take immediate steps to restore adequate import standards to effectively remove the legitimate concerns our export customers now have to support their age restrictions.

“Our message to Congress was that we must first put our own house in order by reversing USDA’s over-30-month (OTM) rule that allows the importation into the U.S. of Canadian cattle that were born during the time BSE was known to be circulating in the Canadian herd,” Bullard concluded. “Doing this will remove our export customers’ legitimate basis for imposing age restrictions, and then we can expect our export markets to return to some semblance of normalcy.”