USDA Proposes Updates to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Restrictions

USDA Proposes Updates to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Restrictions

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to update its regulations regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).  With this proposed rule, APHIS is seeking to update the agency’s import regulations to more closely align them with current scientific understanding and international guidelines.

The current import regulations prohibit the importation of most live sheep and goats and their products from countries considered a risk for BSE.  These were established when the risk of sheep and goats related to BSE was not well known.  These regulations also protect against the introduction of other TSEs, such as scrapie.  The restrictions have disrupted trade and caused economic hardship for U.S. producers seeking to introduce new genetics into their flocks and herd.

Over the past decades, scientists around the world have completed extensive research, providing a much better understanding of how TSEs infect and spread in animals.  Because it has been shown that sheep and goats and other small ruminants pose a minimal risk of spreading the BSE disease agent, APHIS is proposing to remove the current BSE-related restrictions on imports of live domestic sheep, goats and small ruminants, as well as most sheep and goat products.  Restrictions related to scrapie are being updated as well, in order to continue to protect U.S. sheep and goat health. 

Permits would be required prior to import for many live animals, except for sheep and goats from Canada or Mexico that enter the US through a land border port and are immediately heading to slaughter.  Any live sheep or goat not going directly to slaughter or to a designated feedlot and then to slaughter will need to originate from a scrapie free country or flock.  This can be demonstrated through appropriate participation in a certification program that includes risk mitigations equivalent to export certified status in the US Scrapie Flock Certification Program, with some exceptions.

Additionally, APHIS proposes to add appropriate safeguards against the introduction of other TSEs for certain wild, zoo or other non-bovine ruminant species.  The potential TSE risks of zoological ruminants will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  APHIS will consider the disease risk of each animal and the ability of the receiving zoo to manage the risks before deciding whether to issue an import permit to allow the animal to enter the country.

Processed animal protein that contains ruminant materials will continue to be considered a BSE risk and therefore will continue to be restricted from countries that are not negligible risk for BSE.  It is difficult to demonstrate that such proteins could completely exclude bovine materials, including specified risk materials (including the brain, spinal column, or certain internal organs) that could harbor the BSE agent.

This proposed rule would provide greater opportunity for U.S. producers and consumers.  It would reduce restrictions involving trade of sheep and goats from Canada, in addition to allowing the importation of sheep, goats, and zoo ruminants from countries where such imports are currently prohibited due to BSE.  With the removal of the BSE restrictions, it will also be easier to move sheep and goat casings (animal intestines) of both U.S. and foreign origin, as well as the products that contain them.   

This proposed rule is available for public inspection today on the Federal Register page at: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.  Interested stakeholders can view the petition and submit comments beginning tomorrow at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2009-0095 or submit comments in writing to: Docket No. APHIS-2009-0095, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.  Comments will be accepted for 60 days.

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