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Irish ag minister urges adoption of BSE rule

Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney

Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney today thanked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for the Obama administration’s decision to move forward with a comprehensive rule on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as BSE or mad cow disease, because that rule would lead to U.S. imports of European beef, an Irish Embassy official has told The Hagstrom Report.

Current U.S. rules prohibit the importation of live ruminants and most ruminant products from regions that have BSE or that present an undue risk for BSE, although the regulations are less restrictive for Canada and for the importation of boneless beef from Japan.

Under the proposed rule that USDA published in the Federal Register on March 16, the United States would follow the guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which declare certain areas of the world to be of controlled or minimal risk and encourages beef trade among those areas. Ireland already meets that standard.

And while adopting OIE standards would lead to imports of European beef, the signal that the United States follows international scientific standards would make it easier to convince Asian countries to import a broader range of U.S. beef products, government and beef industry officials have said.

Vilsack told Coveney he is “confident” the United States will eventually give final approval to the rule, but did not provide a timeline for approval, John Dardis, the Irish embassy official in charge of agriculture, said in an interview.

A USDA spokesman today confirmed that Coveney had thanked Vilsack for publishing the proposed rule based on OIE guidelines, and that Vilsack responded that “our comment period has just closed, and that we continue moving through the regulatory process.”

At a reception Monday evening at the residence of Irish Ambassador to the United Michael Collins, Coveney said he planned to tell Vilsack that Ireland will be able to export high-end fresh beef to Irish-oriented restaurants in the United States. He noted that Ireland already exports beef to many countries, and that one in five hamburgers sold in McDonald’s restaurants in Europe is made with Irish beef.

Ireland also exports massive amounts of agricultural products and is the European headquarters for many multinational food companies, including those from the United States, he said.

Coveney and Vilsack also engaged in a broader discussion of agricultural policy, Coveney said at the reception, noting that he believes in a policy of “sustainable intensification” in agriculture.

He noted that the Irish economy is much better than it was two years ago and that Ireland is committed to staying in the euro currency zone.

Ireland exports about 85 percent of its agricultural production and has placed a new emphasis on agricultural exports since the financial crisis, he said. An officer with Enterprise Ireland, an Irish business promotion group, said that Ireland expects to export much more milk to European countries after the European Union ends a milk quota system in 2016.