Colombia becomes first country to restrict US beef due to bird flu in dairy cows

CHICAGO, April 25 (Reuters) – Colombia has restricted the import of beef and beef products coming from U.S. states where dairy cows have tested positive for avian influenza as of April 15, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is the first country to officially limit trade in beef due to bird flu in cows, in a sign of a broadening economic impact of the virus that has restricted poultry trade globally. Colombia imports a small amount of beef from the U.S. annually, according to government data and market analysts.

In a notice, opens new tab this week on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website, which was last updated on April 22, the agency said the ban includes beef products derived from cattle slaughtered in Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

Colombia imposed temporary restrictions on raw bovine meat products, the notice said. If exporters have a valid import permit, shipments may still be held at the port.

The restrictions come as the U.S. government said it will require dairy cattle moving between states to be tested for bird flu starting on Monday, as federal officials ramp up their response to an outbreak that has bled over into the U.S. milk supply.

The measures aim to contain the spread of bird flu, which has been reported in eight states and 33 dairy herds since it was first detected in late March in Texas. A person exposed to cattle tested positive for the disease and suffered conjunctivitis.

To date, no U.S. beef cattle have tested positive for bird flu, government officials said.

Colombia is the only country that has officially imposed restrictions on U.S. beef exports over the H5N1 outbreak, said Joe Schuele, spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, an industry group.

“We don’t feel that import restrictions related to the avian flu outbreak have any scientific basis,” he said, adding: “It’s certainly a big deal for exporters who are doing business in Colombia and for their customers.”

USDA officials are talking with Colombia about the issue, Schuele said.

Trading partners have requested additional information on the government’s epidemiology, Rosemary Sifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer, said in a webinar on Thursday.

“We are responding to their requests for information as we receive them, to provide information that assists them in mitigating any trade impacts,” Sifford said.