U.S. risk classification for BSE to be improved to 'negligible'


New status expected to be adopted at animal health assembly in May.

The Scientific Commission for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) plans to upgrade the United States' risk classification for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to "negligible risk," according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Negligible risk is the lowest risk level under the OIE code.

After aligning its import guidelines for BSE with international standards last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) submitted an application and supporting information to the OIE in hopes of improving its "controlled" BSE status. According to a USDA release, the OIE determines a country's status based on actions the country has taken to manage the risk of the disease. "These actions include instituting a strong ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strictly controlling imports of animals and animal products from countries at risk for the disease, and conducting appropriate surveillance," the agency says.

Since surveillance began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified four cases of BSE in the United States. The first was identified in 2003; the most recent case was identified in April 2012. More than 50 countries temporarily suspended beef imports from the United States after the identification of BSE in 2003. Japan and China still maintain restrictions on U.S. beef.

The USDA is confident the new status will be approved. "The United States has a longstanding system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health in the United States, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials from all animals presented for slaughter," a release states. "The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. The third safeguard is our ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population."

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