OIE chief calls for lifting of Brazilian beef bans

* Five countries banned Brazilian beef due to mad cow case

* Brazil considering retaliation at WTO over import bans

* World animal health body OIE head sees bans as needless

* Sees no reason to change Brazil's safety status

PARIS, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The head of the World Animal Health
Organization (OIE) called on countries that are banning
Brazilian beef imports, following a case of mad cow disease last
month, to lift restrictions as soon as possible, saying they
were not justified.

Brazil's foreign trade secretary said last week that five
countries had banned beef imports from Brazil and that the
world's top beef exporter was considering retaliation at the
World Trade Organization (WTO) if they did not lift their bans.

China, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Jordan informed
Brazil that they had imposed import bans after the OIE said a
cow that died in 2010 had bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

OIE Director General Bernard Vallat said countries had the
right under WTO rules to impose provisional bans as an emergency
response to animal disease outbreaks pending further
information, but he saw no reason for such restrictions in this

"One case in a population of 200 million heads of cattle
does not justify a change of status," Vallat told reporters.

The 13-year-old cow never developed BSE but tested positive
for the protein that causes the disease, a form of BSE called
'atypical' by scientists.

Paris-based OIE has maintained Brazil's status as a beef
producer with so-called negligible risk of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), the safest of its three categories. It is
given to countries that have shown the disease was either
non-existent or extremely restricted.

"According to OIE standards, they should lift their ban as
soon as possible," Vallat said.

Brazil's BSE status will be reviewed at a regular meeting of
the OIE's scientific committee due to take place in three weeks.

Officials from the Secretary for Animal and Plant Health at
Brazil's farm ministry said on Dec. 21 that Brazil would give
the countries that curbed its beef imports until March before
pursuing legal action at the WTO.

Vallat stressed that even if coming from infected animals,
red meat consumption could be considered as safe for humans, as
opposed to brains and spinal chord.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Jane Baird)