Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Jamaica lifts U.S. beef ban

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- Jamaica has lifted a ban on U.S. beef imports imposed last year after a single case of mad cow disease was detected in the United States, the agriculture minister said Tuesday.

After months of negotiations, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said Jamaica was satisfied that U.S. officials had contained the disease and implemented stringent measures on cattle and beef products to guard against a future outbreak.

But he said the island would continue to block the import of a small number of beef products like bone marrow and brain for safety reasons, as well as meat from cows older than 2 1/2 years, which are considered more susceptible to mad cow disease.

The agreement, which takes effect immediately, also ensures that all U.S. beef entering Jamaica must come from processing plants approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and derive from cattle not fed with animal byproducts like bone meal, Clarke said.

"We have lifted the ban, but we're specific as to the animals that come in," Clarke said in a telephone interview.

In a statement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman praised Jamaica's decision, calling it an "important step forward in getting U.S. beef markets opened."

Jamaica was among several Caribbean countries to ban U.S. beef imports after a case of mad cow disease was detected in Washington state last December. Investigators traced the infected cow to Canada.

Before the ban, the United States was Jamaica's largest beef supplier, with US$4.3 million in beef exports to the island in 2003. Jamaica has since had to increase beef imports from New Zealand, Australia and Chile, leading to higher prices for consumers and hotels.

Mad cow disease, officially called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a concern because humans who eat brain or spinal matter from an infected cow can develop a related brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

In Britain, 143 people died after an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.