Finding a Referee in the OIE

By Bruce Ross, Ross Gordon Consultants SPRL

What does the name “Organisation Mondiale de la Santé Animale” mean to you? Is “Organización Mundial de Sanidad Animal” any better? In English these translate to “World Organization for Animal Health,” but the organization it denotes is known more widely by its long-standing French acronym, OIE. It would be beneficial for North American renderers to get to know this organization better for it has a big influence over trade in rendered products.

The majority of international trade is conducted using OIE standards. Australia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan are just a few of the many countries using OIE standards as a requirement to import tallow from countries classified as having a risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This is one reason the National Renderers Association (NRA) devotes much attention to the OIE.

North American renderers need the best access possible for their products in export markets. More market access for protein meals or other rendered products such as tallow has a direct benefit for a company’s bottom line, but access can often be limited by non-tariff barriers as well as by tariffs. The former relate to real or sometimes imaginary or even contrived food safety or animal health concerns making it relatively simple for importing countries to cite such concerns and effectively ban the import of a rendered product. It is essential to have a “referee,” an independent, international body that decides on definitions of terms, measurement methods, and safety standards relating to animal-related products.

This is where the OIE steps in. The standards, guidelines, and recommendations issued by the OIE are the international references in the field of animal diseases and zoonoses, within which trade in animal-related products can take place. The World Trade Organization (WTO) also refers to the OIE in dispute settlement cases.

But how does this affect renderers in practice? Following are some examples. The first three illustrate the positive role the OIE can play while the fourth shows the other side of the coin, where the absence of a clear OIE standard has had negative consequences.

First the positive. In 2004, in an effort to keep some markets open, the NRA used the OIE standard for protein-free tallow to persuade overseas governments’ thinking of restricting or closing their borders to U.S. tallow and grease. The OIE also made a general announcement about its standard. The Venezuelan yellow grease market, which is about 70,000 metric tons per year of U.S. product worth over $25 million, could have been lost without promotion of this standard. For the most part, global trade is now conducted under the standard. Unfortunately there are a few countries, such as China, that still refuse to allow entry of animal fats, so bilateral and OIE work must go on.

Also in 2004, Philippine authorities were persuaded to withdraw a ban on imports of U.S. poultry proteins following joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/OIE advice in the wake of an avian influenza outbreak that had unnerved markets. It is very likely that other large markets such as Indonesia would have used any negative recommendations by the FAO/OIE to justify a ban on poultry protein imports.

To use an even more up-to-date example, in July 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) invoked OIE standards in its protests to the Indonesian government over trade restrictions imposed on the entire United States following an avian influenza outbreak in Arkansas. APHIS argued that the imposition of a ban on the import of poultry and poultry products from the United States could not be justified scientifically or by international standards – the international standards and guidelines for safe trade of poultry and poultry products it referred to were from the OIE. APHIS succeeded and Indonesia is now allowing poultry proteins back in.

Turning to the less positive, in 2003 the OIE’s classification of countries according to their BSE status meant that all U.S. export markets for meat and bone meal were stopped and will be very difficult to re-open. Nevertheless, the OIE’s classifications are not set in stone. The OIE now has a new system of categorizing exporting countries on the basis of BSE risk as “negligible,” “controlled,” or “undetermined.”

In June 2008, the OIE officially declared that the United Kingdom (UK) is now “controlled risk” for BSE, the same status as the United States and Canada! Confirmation of the United Kingdom’s controlled risk status will support the opening of more international markets for the export of UK cattle and beef, but it will not help North America. Unfortunately, the OIE advises against the export of meat and bone meal from controlled risk countries. This is a tough constraint to overcome with importing nations’ government officials.

So you can see that the stance taken by the OIE on issues pertaining to rendered products can open or close markets.

But who are these shadowy bureaucrats and technical experts who wield such power? The need to fight animal diseases on a global level led to the creation of the “Office International des Epizooties,” or OIE, in 1924. The OIE is the intergovernmental body responsible for improving animal health worldwide, recognized as a reference organization by the WTO. In May 2003, OIE became the World Organization for Animal Health but kept its historical acronym. It has over 170 member countries and is headquartered in Paris, France.

Yes, the OIE is a bureaucracy but it’s more accessible than it sounds. The main avenue for the NRA to influence the work of the OIE is by seeking the assistance of the U.S. government in fighting its causes in the usual way that governments do in intergovernmental forums. Thus, the NRA contributes to APHIS submissions to the OIE on a regular basis, for example, as part of the OIE’s annual review of its standards.

It’s usually better to build alliances and pursue all avenues when dealing with international organizations. The OIE is more open than some other international bodies, encouraging industry groups to get involved in its work. However, it prefers that any information, advice, or lobbying come from groups that are globally representative. This is where the World Renderers Organization (WRO) comes in.

The WRO serves as a vehicle for exchanging points of view on rendering issues and putting forward positions to governments and world organizations. Approximately 20 countries are represented in the WRO. The NRA works actively within the WRO to persuade its members to take similar positions as the NRA’s with their own governments so that all WRO members (and thereby hopefully OIE) speak with one voice.

The NRA can approach the OIE directly if it wishes to clarify existing OIE standards on particular issues or if it wishes a standard to be changed. This does not have to be done via a member government, though this obviously helps, and taking the WRO route carries more weight. Furthermore, the WRO could establish an agreement with the OIE to act as one of its consultative bodies.

Again this may sound theoretical, but it isn’t. The WRO is already actively approaching the OIE on issues of importance to NRA members. For example, the WRO is asking the OIE to eliminate from its BSE code the term “protein free” in relation to tallow. WRO members are concerned about the continuing debate over this term in conjunction with the standard of less than 0.15 percent insoluble impurities. Several trading countries cannot reconcile these two terms and are therefore questioning which of the two terms is really the most important.

Also, the WRO is asking the OIE to publish a standardized impurities test since different testing methodologies for impurities can lead to different results, creating the potential for trade disruptions. The WRO wants the OIE to develop recommendations on a standardized method for testing for impurities. WRO members support the use of the American Oil Chemists’ Society method “Ca 3a-46” for the testing of insoluble impurities.

Having a strong and impartial referee is crucial to international trade in rendered products. The NRA and its global counterpart, the WRO, are wise to devote their attention to the OIE’s activities. It’s worth a lot of money in the end.

International Report – October 2008 RENDER | back