OIE deems all U.S. beef safe; age ceiling to be urged lifted

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States will probably press Japan to ease its import conditions on U.S. beef now that a panel of the World Organization for Animal Health has decided to categorize the U.S. as a country that can export beef regardless of cattle age.

The U.S. Agriculture Department reported the decision Friday by the Scientific Commission of the Paris-based group, known commonly by the French acronym OIE, which is expected to formalize the move at a general assembly meeting in May.

With official beef-safety status, the U.S. government is expected to urge Japan to raise the age limit on cattle slaughtered for its beef imports to 30 months from the current 20 or to remove the age limit completely.

Japan was the largest foreign market for U.S. beef before the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in December 2003. The department said in a statement that the OIE panel has given the United States “controlled risk” status, the second-best category after “negligible risk” status. Countries with either of the ratings are considered able to export beef from any age cattle.

“This recommendation provides strong support that U.S. regulatory controls are effective and that U.S cattle and products from cattle of all ages can be safely traded in accordance with international guidelines, due to our interlocking safeguards,” it said.

The age limit has been a bone of contention between Tokyo and Washington since the first U.S. mad cow disease case was discovered.