France is the fourth European Union (EU) country, after Lithuania, Ireland and the Netherlands, to have its beef re-admitted to the US market, after a January 1998 ban imposed because of fears over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.
“We welcome the US’ move to lift the ban on French beef imports and we urge them to allow exports from other EU countries and to treat the EU as a single entity,” Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of EU farm body Copa-Cogeca told GlobalMeatNews.
Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV), agreed. “This US decision [made on 13 January] is another step towards the recognition of the EU legislation in the member states and of the efforts of the French food business operators and competent authorities aiming at complying with the specific US import requirements.”
Mériaux told GlobalMeatNews that as more member states have applied to export beef to the US, “other decisions are expected during 2017, for instance on Spain and the UK”.
“The approval of France, besides Lithuania, Ireland and the Netherlands, will increase the export potential and will be the opportunity to meet the various US quality requirements,” he continued. “At least three segments are now covered by EU member states in the USA: veal, beef prime cuts and minced meat.”
He explained this was not an instant decision and followed the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) recommendations. “The US and French authorities decided to act many months ago, and the US decision reflects the positive achievement of that process. We hope that, soon, the US will adopt the same procedure for sheepmeat.”
This involves a questionnaire, on-spot inspections, written guarantees and certification conditions, Mériaux added: “It’s a long process that requires many assessments.”
The US meat industry, including the United States National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, did not respond to GlobalMeatNews’ requests for comments on the liberalisation by press time. In the past, this group has welcomed the US Department of Agriculture’s “robust audits” to eliminate BSE presence, but has urged caution in lifting bans on beef imports from additional EU member states.
Welcoming the move, EU commissioners Phil Hogan, responsible for agriculture, Vytenis Andriukaitis, responsible for health and food safety, and Cecilia Malmström, responsible for trade, said it was “wonderful news for French producers” and an “illustration that the EU’s efforts to eradicate BSE from its territory have been successful”.
The French Agriculture Ministry has warned, however, that it could take time for beef exports to the US to resume, saying: “We are pleased with this first step, but this doesn’t mean that exports will start tomorrow.”
Kent Bacus, USA National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) director of international trade and market access, welcomed the deal, saying: “The US has some of the strongest science-based standards in the world when it comes to food safety and animal health. Now that France has come into compliance with our science-based standards for BSE, standards that are consistent with guidelines established by the World Organisation for Animal Health, they will now enjoy access to the US market.”
However, Bacus argued that the EU still unfairly blocked American beef exports over issues such as additives. “The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association supports science-based trade and we are hopeful that someday soon our access to the European market will be based on internationally-recognized science-based trade," he said. "Unfortunately we continue to face highly restrictive non-science based trade barriers that prevent European consumers from enjoying the safe and high quality US beef that American consumers enjoy.”