USDA rejects independent mad cow testing
The US Agriculture Department will not allow American beef companies to independently test their cattle for mad cow disease to appease Japanese concerns, an agency official said on Friday.
Meanwhile, Mexico further eased its US beef import restrictions, allowing more US variety meats and tallow shipments, the USDA said.
The USDA rejected a request by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to allow 100 percent testing for the brain-wasting disease, a step the privately owned company deemed necessary to resume trade with Japan.
“The use of the test as proposed by Creekstone would have implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted,” said USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawks in a statement. “The test is now licensed for animal health surveillance purposes.”
The USDA last month announced a one-year program to test hundreds of thousands of cattle for mad cow disease, significantly boosting surveillance after finding the first and only US case in December. Last year, the U.S. tested 20,000 cattle.
But Japan, typically the top buyer of American beef, wanted all 35 million cattle slaughtered annually to be tested before it resumes trade. The USDA has repeatedly said Japan’s demand for 100 percent testing was not scientifically justified. US Vice President Richard Cheney was expected to raise the issue when he visits Japan next week.
“We are continuing our discussions with all of our trading partners so that trade can resume based on international scientific standards,” Hawks said. Japan usually accounts for 40 percent of US beef exports, buying more than $1 billion a year in beef, veal and variety meats.
Creekstone, which sells 20 percent of its beef to Japan, said it was considering taking legal action against USDA and would make a decision early next week. “We firmly disagree with USDA,” said John Stewart, Creekstone’s chief executive.
The company had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a private laboratory at its Arkansas City, Kansas, beef plant in anticipation of winning government approval.
Japan’s three-month ban costs Creekstone up to $100,000 daily in lost sales, the company said. About 50 workers have been laid off.
Mexico accepts more US beef
The USDA said on Friday Mexico, the No. 2 buyer of U.S. beef, eased its restrictions further. In March, Mexico reopened its borders to the majority of US beef that was prohibited since the discovery of the first and only US case of mad cow disease in late December.
“The reopening of the Mexican market to more beef products is a very positive signal that the North American market for beef is returning to normal,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in a statement.
The United States has regained access for products worth $746 million, or 74 percent of about $1 billion in annual exports, of beef and tallow to Mexico, the USDA said.
Mexico will now accept tongues, hearts, kidneys from US cattle younger than 30 months of age, the USDA said. Its southern neighbor also will allow imports of livers and edible tallow from all US cattle.
In March, Mexico lifted restrictions on boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age and veal. —Reuters