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U.S. Relaxes Foot-and-Mouth Ban on EU Meat Imports

U.S. Relaxes Foot-and-Mouth Ban on EU Meat Imports

May 25, 2001 Reuters by Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday lifted a 10-week ban on imports of animals and raw meat products from most European Union nations, saying it would no longer prohibit imports from countries that have had no confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

With Europe declaring the highly contagious and financially devastating disease under control, the U.S. Agriculture Department said it would reopen U.S. borders to shipments of animals and fresh meat products from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

``The lifting of the restrictions will begin immediately,'' said USDA spokesman Kevin Herglotz.

However, the ban will remain in place on meat from Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Greece, said Bobby Acord, associate administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Those five nations have had confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

Acord emphasized that a separate U.S. ban on EU meat products -- stemming from concerns about mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- which has put a stop to most imports of European beef, remains in place.

``Essentially this (action today) only allows the importation of pork or pork products and semen,'' he said.

Animal semen is imported for livestock breeding purposes.

The EU-wide foot-and-mouth ban had affected annual imports worth $278 million, primarily pork products from Denmark, according to USDA.

USDA also announced it will allow a large quantity of pork from Denmark, which is being held in quarantine here, to enter the U.S. market. The meat, comprised mostly of pork ribs and hams, arrived at East Coast ports after the U.S. ban was imposed in March and has been held in freezers pending the USDA decision.

``We do not have a value of what is being held in inventory at the ports,'' Acord said, adding: ``The cold storage warehouses are pretty full.''

U.S. restaurants, especially some large chains that feature popular Danish ``baby back ribs,'' depleted their supply about six weeks into the ban, according to industry officials.

U.S. INDUSTRY REACTION

The American Meat Institute and other groups representing U.S. agriculture interests said on Friday that USDA was basing its decision to ease the EU ban on ``sound science,'' including data from the various EU countries.

Chandler Keys, vice president of public policy for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association , urged the EU to similarly use ``scientifically based principles'' and end its ban on U.S. beef containing growth hormones.

``One good turn deserves another,'' Keys said.

But for more than a decade, the EU has argued that consuming beef from cows treated with growth hormones presented a health risk to humans and as a result most U.S. beef is barred from the European market.

USDA CITES NEED FOR FOOT-MOUTH VIGILANCE

While the United States regionalized its foot-and-mouth related import ban, it promised continued vigilance in ensuring the disease does not enter the country.

``This is no way lessens our effort at ports of entry,'' Acord told reporters at a briefing. ``We will continue our efforts to increase personnel at ports of entry.''

On March 13, the United States launched a ban on all EU raw meat products after foot-and-mouth disease jumped from Britain to France. The financially devastating disease also has been detected in the Netherlands, Ireland and Greece, but did not affect the other 10 EU member nations.

Foot-and-mouth disease cripples pigs, cattle, sheep and goats for months, and sharply reduces milk and meat production. The virus, which rarely endangers humans, is easily spread by shoes, farm equipment and even the wind.

The United States has been free of the disease since 1929.

Britain, the epicenter of the outbreak, has destroyed. nearly 2.5 million animals since the first confirmed case was found in February among pigs at a slaughterhouse in southeast England. British exports to the United States were not that significant, however.

But the country that had suffered the most by far from the EU-wide ban had been Denmark. According to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, Denmark alone shipped $197.4 million worth of pork products to the United States last year.

Danish pork producers said they lost $32.29 million (270 million crowns) due to the 10-week U.S. ban.


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