The US will lift its ban on meat imports from some European countries.  The Agriculture Department says it is now safe to import pork and some beef products from foot-and-mouth-free parts of Europe. The move goes some way towards reducing the huge economic impact of the crisis on European producers and US distributors - but particularly due to the ongoing mad cow disease scare, it will be a long time before all the restrictions are eased.

The US government has decided to end the ban on meat products from European nations that it found free of foot-and-mouth disease, allowing imports of pork and some beef products to the country. Stepped-up checks at airports and docks for banned products will stay at their current level, as the US has not had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929.

The conditional lifting of the ban follows similar steps taken by Canada and other countries. The US Agriculture Department banned meat and meat products imports from all European Union countries in March after the UK and France found cases of foot-and-mouth disease. The highly contagious animal disease greatly reduces meat and milk production in cloven-hoofed animals.

Meat and meat products will now be allowed into the US from Denmark, Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The ban remains for the UK, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Greece where there have been recent cases of foot-and-mouth disease. The end of the ban mainly affects pork products because many beef products are still banned due to mad cow disease.

The US imported $294.4 million in meat and meat products from the EU in 2000, up from $256.3 million in 1999, according to the Agriculture Department. Al Tank, chief executive of the National Pork Producers Council, which promotes US pork, said he trusted the Agriculture Department had "done the appropriate due diligence" to make sure imports are disease-free.

The action is important in recognizing not only the efforts that have been made in rectifying the problem of foot-and-mouth disease, but the tremendous global economic impact it has had on European beef and pork producers as well American distributors, restaurants and grocery stores. Unfortunately it may be some time before the ban on all meat products from every European country is lifted in the US, forcing some Americans to rethink their stance on vegetarianism.

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