The USDA has lifted its import ban on pork and pork products for 10 countries within the European Union that have not had any confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth disease. Those countries include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The U.S. placed the import ban on all animal and raw meat products from the EU on March 13. That ban remains in effect for Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Greece – all countries which have had confirmed cases of FMD.

A separate U.S. ban on EU meat products, which stems from concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which has stopped most beef imports, remains in place.

Response to the USDA’s action has been mixed. While EU member countries celebrate that the U.S. has joined Canada in easing import restrictions, the U.S. pork industry reacted cautiously. “We trust that the USDA has carefully evaluated the information presented by those ten EU members, and can unequivocally assure the American people that the large volume of pork products kept in U.S. storage are free of disease,” said Barb Determan, president of the National Pork Producers Council. The easing of import restrictions includes pork products that arrived at U.S. ports from Denmark after the ban was imposed. Those pork products have been kept in freezer storage since that time.

Weighing in against the decision to ease import restrictions was U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, (D-S.D.), Senate Democratic leader who is soon to be Senate majority leader. “It’s more important for USDA to make sure that American producers are protected than to ease restrictions before we make sure that this is contained, before we really know how easily it can be spread and where it can come from,” said Jay Carson, spokesman for Sen. Daschle. The Senator has called for stopping all meat and livestock imports from the EU.

The USDA revised the import restrictions only after the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service completed a scientific risk assessment. Although the import ban has been relaxed, USDA has not relaxed its measures to keep the disease out of the U.S. In fact, USDA is continuing on with its plans announced last month to increase personnel at ports of entry and tighten regulatory enforcement.

USDA, Reuters, Associated Press