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BSE Update: Working to Overturn Saudi Arabia's Beef Ban

Published: May 18, 2012
Saudi Arabia has issued a temporary ban on U.S. beef and beef products in response to the recently announced BSE case in California. With purchases of frozen beef recently accelerating for the upcoming Ramadan holiday in July, several million dollars worth of product are in the pipeline. The situation is being addressed at the highest diplomatic and technical levels, but large shipments could be in jeopardy if progress is not made soon.

Top USDA officials are engaged with their Saudi counterparts on this issue, including delivery of a letter from Secretary Vilsack outlining the reasons why this market closure is inappropriate and unacceptable. Of particular concern is the manner in which Saudi officials waited two weeks to make an announcement, then arbitrarily selected an effective shipping date of April 19 for the closure.

“I find the manner in which Saudi Arabia has handled this situation to be very unsettling,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “Not only is there no scientific basis for the market closure, but implementing it two weeks after the BSE case was announced has created a difficult situation for product already on the water. However, I want to assure those who serve this market that USMEF is working diligently with U.S. trade officials to resolve this issue, and hopefully we can do so without too much more damage being done.”

Seng noted that while Saudi Arabia accounted for only 0.6 percent of U.S. beef export value last year, this does not accurately capture the level of disruption the market closure has caused.

“Losing a market this size is not going to cripple the U.S. beef industry as a whole, but it could be absolutely devastating for small and medium-sized companies that specialize in serving Saudi Arabia,” he said. “This market is critical to their livelihood, and we have made certain that our trade officials understand that. This absolutely cannot be a back-burner issue, or some companies will be badly hurt and U.S. jobs will be lost.”

For exporters who have questions about this situation, please contact Courtney Heller ( or Kevin Smith ( for assistance.

For the most part, U.S. trading partners have continued to adhere to sound science with regard to the BSE case and have not changed the level of market access for U.S. beef. Other than Saudi Arabia, the lone exception is Indonesia - where imports of U.S. bone-in cuts and beef offal (with a Bill of Lading date on or after April 24) have been suspended.

In South Korea, media coverage of the BSE case continues but has lost some momentum over the past week. Public protests calling for a suspension of U.S. beef imports have attracted only small gatherings. However, consumer pushback continues to be a concern that USMEF is addressing on several fronts.

In Taiwan, four separate proposals to ban U.S. beef imports have failed in the Legislative Yuan. The business climate remains difficult, however, due to the ongoing controversy over ractopamine residues and negative media coverage of the BSE case.

USMEF will provide more information on the situations in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia - as well as updates from other key markets - as further details become available.