Senators continue push to block Argentine beef imports

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 2, 2008
Senators continue push to block Argentine beef imports

In a letter written to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer on Nov. 20, Sens. Tim Johnson, D-SD, and Mike Enzi, R-WY, continued their move to block the import of fresh beef and livestock from Argentina.

Argentina, which has well-documented issues with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), has been the subject of an ongoing trade dispute since USDA made it known that they intended to open up trade on a regionalized basis with the country. The Patagonia South Region, which USDA and Argentine officials recognize as being FMD-free, would be allowed to export fresh beef and livestock to the U.S. if the plan were to move forward.

Led by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) and R-CALF USA, and backed by Johnson and Enzi, a coalition has formed in an effort to stop the import of those products from Argentina. The cattlemen’s groups and lawmakers allege that accepting beef from a regionalized area and drawing ‘imaginary lines’ around the areas in Argentina known to be affected by FMD would open the U.S. cattle industry up to unnecessary risk. In the senators’ letter to Schafer, comments made by Dr. John Clifford of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) were highlighted. Clifford had recently remarked that he intended to stop the import proposal from moving forward until there is a review of the 2005 risk assessment which USDA marks as the reasoning for their plan. “The country of Argentina had an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease as late as 2006, and our first priority must be to protect the U.S. supply. Dr. Clifford’s comments were reassuring, but it is my hope that the secretary is on the same page and believes more research needs to be done,” said Johnson. “I will continue to fight for our American farmers and ranchers and work to stop USDA’s flawed plan to allow importation of Argentine fresh beef and livestock.”

In the letter, the senators pointed out the dangerously infectious nature of FMD, and the regionalization rubric which Argentina fails to meet. “We agree sound science must be the basis for initiatives involving or affecting livestock health. We also believe that, in consultation with nationally-recognized livestock health experts, sound science determines that we not regionalize Argentina for FMD. APHIS has adopted a regionalization protocol that is compliant with the World Organization for Animal Health.

That protocol involves 11 factors which must be addressed by the country seeking to regionalize when the regionalization process is initiated,” they wrote.

“However, out of the 11 points listed, Argentina is arguably deficient on two critical points, involving both the degree to which the region is separated from other regions of greater risk and the level of control in moving both product and animals from higher risk areas,” the letter continued.

Both USCA and R-CALF have worked in close contact with the senators in keeping the issue raised in Washington and have continued to offer their support in stopping trade on a regionalized basis.

“USCA commends Sens.

Johnson and Enzi for their leadership and commitment to addressing this very important animal health issue,” wrote USCA President Jon Wooster.

“These senators echo the concern that cattle producers from across the country share. Argentina has not followed the proper procedures which would allow their meat increased access to the U.S. market.”

“Being lax with FMD disease prevention and eradication is unacceptable,” Wooster continued. “Furthermore, Argentina has a long history of breaking deals with the U.S., including loan defaults and periodically opposing U.S. farmers and ranchers at the World Trade Organization level. Given the current status of events, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association remains opposed to the US- DA’s plan to increase meat imports from Argentina and calls upon the Bush administration to withdraw this proposed rule.” R-CALF President Max Thornsberry, chair of the group’s animal health committee, seconded the senators’ comments regarding the seriousness of the FMD issue.

“FMD is recognized internationally as one of the most contagious diseases of cloven-hoofed animals and it bears the potential to cause severe economic losses to U.S. cattle producers,” he said. “This common-sense legislation recognizes that the most effective prevention measure against this highly contagious disease is to ensure that it is not imported into the U.S. from countries where FMD is known to exist or was recently detected.” — Tait Berlier, WLJ Editor