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Buyers of US beef keep importing after mad cow case

26 April 2012, Thursday /REUTERS
Major export markets for US beef from Canada to Japan stayed open after the United States reported its first case of mad cow disease in six years amid assurances that rigorous surveillance had safeguarded the food system.    

US live cattle futures were higher on Wednesday, but only recovered about half of what they lost on Tuesday when the market posted its biggest drop in seven months. US authorities quickly told consumers and importers around the world there was no danger that meat from the infected California dairy cow would enter the food chain. The cow tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease. Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Canada and the European Union said they would continue to import US beef, although two major South Korean retailers halted sales and Indonesia, a small buyer, suspended shipments. In 2011, Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea combined took 65 percent, or 1.82 billion lbs, of US beef exports. "This finding will not affect trade between the US and Canada," the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a statement on Wednesday. "Both countries have implemented science-based measures to protect animal and human health." Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the new case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) reported on Tuesday should have no bearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Japan already only allows imports of US and Canadian beef from cattle aged 20 months or less. 

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the positive response from trade partners was a sign of confidence in the preventative measures taken by the United States and that he was not concerned about a potential cut off in imports. "I'm sending out a letter to 20 major trading partners today to reassure that the products they're buying are safe," Vilsack told Reuters Insider.

Samples from the infected cow have been sent to laboratories in Canada and Britain for final confirmation, Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said in a statement, adding that the case was unlikely to affect the current USDA "controlled risk" categorisation for mad cow disease. "According to USDA statements, the steps taken so far are consistent with OIE standards," it added.

Russia's health watchdog said it could consider restrictions on US imports but that it was waiting for more information on the outbreak and the planned US response before taking a decision. Korean retailer Lotte Mart, a unit of Lotte Shopping Co. , said it had suspended sales due to what it said was "customer concerns", as did Home Plus, a unit of Britain's Tesco PLC. Indonesian Vice Agriculture Minister Rusman Heriawan told Reuters that Southeast Asia's largest economy would suspend imports of US beef from Thursday. The country only accounted for 0.6 percent of US beef exports worth $17 million in 2011, mostly used in hotels and high-end restaurants. Vietnam, which suspended US beef imports between December 2003 and September 2011, said it had not changed its policy on US beef in response to the latest news.

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