November 20, 2003



World Organization For Animal Health Delay Changing BSE Guidelines Until May 2004

The World Organization for Animal Health, known as OIE, will not be changing its bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) guidelines until May 2004, despite a request by the U.S., Canada and Mexico for it to do so by the end of this year, an OIE official said.

David Wilson, head of the OIE's international trade department, said it would be "impossible" to meet the request for new guidelines on mad-cow disease until May at the earliest.

In September, the U.S. Canada and Mexico requested in a joint letter to OIE Director General Bernard Vallat that the international organization develop new "practical guidelines for risk mitigation measures supported by science before the end of this year."

Wilson said the rigid system in place for making such changes would not allow that.

Dale Moore, chief of staff to USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, said the letter's intent was actually just to encourage the OIE to bring up the issue of altering international guidelines. "Our guys continue to work with them," Moore said. "We know that the OIE has a process and we're strongly encouraged that the OIE is taking a look at this and I'm sure there getting a lot of input from other folks as well."

Wilson said the OIE's International Animal Health Code Commission will meet in December to form proposals, based on submissions filed in the September meeting, to change the guidelines and then distribute those proposals to member countries for possible adoption in the group's annual May meeting.

The U.S. has already submitted a proposal for change in OIE guidelines, he said, and the International Animal Health Code Commission will consider it along with others in December.

As the OIE considers changing its BSE guidelines, the USDA has proposed designating Canada as a "minimal-risk region" for BSE even though the department acknowledged that action would conflict with some of the "criteria specified by the...OIE in its recommendations."

The OIE recommends that in order for a country that suffered a BSE outbreak to be considered a minimal risk, it must have had a ban on feeding meat and bone meal to cattle for at least eight years. BSE is believed to be spread through cattle feed if it contains meat-and-bone meal from other ruminants, according to USDA and OIE.

Canada has had its feed ban in place for only six, but USDA officials said it believes Canada's strength in other BSE prevention measures makes up for that. The USDA, in its proposal on display at the U.S. Federal Register, says: "For regions in which BSE has been diagnosed, we would base our evaluation on the overall effectiveness of...control mechanisms in place at the time BSE was diagnosed in the region and on actions taken after the diagnosis."

As such, the interpretation of what constitutes a minimal BSE risk could present a problem for the U.S., if foreign buyers such as Japan and South Korea do not agree that Canada is a minimal risk, according to OIE's Wilson.

"Different countries can arrive at different conclusions or a country can just say its just going to apply the (OIE) code," he said. "So the U.S. can arrive at one conclusion and Japan could arrive at a different conclusion."

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