EU to allow US live pig imports

By Carmen Paun, in Brussels

- Last updated on GMT

EU to allow US live pig imports
The European Commission has lifted a ban on the import of live pigs from the US, showing the European Union (EU) is willing to compromise over its interests in the meat and livestock sector.

The decision, made on Monday, comes just days before EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht travels to America for talks on a possible EU-US free trade agreement.

It means the US will be able to export live pigs to the EU from 25 February, for breeding and production purposes. Brussels expects this measure to lead to the import of a limited number of breeding pigs. The ban had been based on differences in hygiene controls, but animals will be tested before export for vesicular stomatitis. “Such individual testing is a supplementary guarantee to protect member states from the introduction of this disease since outbreaks of vesicular stomatitis have been notified by the US,”​ said a Commission communiqué.

However, Brussels underlined that these outbreaks have been sporadic and not widespread in the US, which complies with animal health controls set by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV), had some concerns, telling​, “However, the US pigs for breeding do not abide by the same rules as the EU pigs for breeding concerning welfare or the environment.”

Meanwhile, in another move that will please Washington, the Commission said that, from 25 February, EU slaughterhouses can use lactic acid to reduce microbiological surface contamination on bovine carcases, which is based on a 2011 positive assessment of the practice by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). While the practice is allowed in the US, it has been banned in the EU, preventing the sale and import of carcases cleansed with lactic acid.

The Commission stressed this method should not substitute good hygienic slaughtering practices, but is an extra tool to ensure bovine carcases are free from harmful bacteria. “This additional tool would help reduce contamination by the most important pathogens widely found in food-borne diseases, such as verocytotoxin-producing E.coli (VTEC) and salmonella,”​ said another Commission note.

Backing the move, Mériaux said: “The EU meat industry strongly believes the use of lactic acid will contribute to improving the safety of the EU beef, in compliance with the current rules for hygiene.”

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