Western Livestock Journal: Vilsack oblivious to cattle industry protests on potential of Foot and Mouth Disease from Brazilian inports

Western Livestock Journal

July 2015

Talk about rubbing disease into the ‘wound’/meat supply!

We have one of those rare times when every organization representing agriculture agrees on an issue. The Obama administration announced last week that they will start to allow 14 regions of Brazil and Argentina to export fresh and frozen beef to the U.S. Ironically, the announcement was made and placed in the Federal Register the same day that Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was visiting President Obama about trade. Do you suppose there are politics involved in this decision?

The idea that this administration would expose the U.S. cattle industry to the slightest threat for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is concerning. In the past two years, animal agriculture has lost 8 million hogs to the PED virus, 50 million chickens and turkeys to avian flu, and now our government wants to bring in fresh beef from areas known to have FMD.

The cattle industry is up in arms over an announcement that everyone knew was coming. This opposition isn’t about trade and markets; it’s all about animal health and protecting the high health standards prevalent in U.S. cattle, sheep and hog production.

Phillip Ellis, President of NCBA, said in a statement: “The arrogance of this administration in continuing to press forward with rules that have a profound impact on industry, without consulting those affected, is appalling. FMD is a highly contagious and devastating disease, not just for the cattle industry but for all cloven-hooved animals and it can be introduced and spread through the importation of both fresh and frozen beef.” This is perhaps the strongest statement I’ve ever read from him.

It’s pretty clear the president wanted to give Rousseff something after the embarrassing episode two years ago when CIA Agent Edward Snowden exposed state secrets from tapping Rousseff’s cell phone conversations. So Obama gives her access to our beef industry and the possibility of destroying it.

What really bothers the industry groups is that the administration didn’t conduct a quantitative risk analysis for this rule as was performed in Uruguay in 2002. Ellis continues: “This rule violated the federal rulemaking process, violated executive orders mandating scientific integrity in rulemaking and circumvented the ongoing Government Accountability Office review of the risk analysis process, and withheld critical information from stakeholders. Our office, NCBA, received over 600 pages of documents relevant to Brazil in Portuguese and over 25 percent of the documents for Argentina were posted to the Federal Register in Spanish, neither with any translation available.

No one should have to learn a second language to review a proposed U.S. government regulation.”

So now what? The rule goes into effect 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. Then Brazilian exporters can start to apply for export equivalency safety standards, have their plants inspected and approved by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and then they can begin shipping. Product could be in the U.S. in six months.

The strategy to thwart this rule is to manage the appropriations process so APHIS doesn’t have the funding to inspect Brazilian and Argentine plants, or wage a legal battle in an attempt to point out that the administration didn’t follow the Administrative Procedure Act. We were told that USDA hasn’t even produced any site inspection reports from their visits to the regions in question.

It’s kind of ironic that this administration has been listening to farm groups such as National Farmers Union, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and others on issues like COOL and the beef checkoff. Now that all groups are on the same page with FMD, they could join their messages and have access to the administration. But it sounds like Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack has turned a deaf ear to their concerns.

This Brazilian import rule has been brewing for quite some time and it’s just shameful that President Obama felt compelled to offer President Rousseff a political bone while she is visiting the White House. It appears that Obama wanted this pushed through the rulemaking process without the strenuous protocol used when Uruguay was approved.

The U.S. has beef FMD-free since 1929. Brazil, on the other hand, has claimed they’re free of FMD with vaccination since 2007. Brazil had a BSE episode recently that caused several countries to curtail Brazilian beef exports. I’m sorry, but their track record of being disease-free just isn’t long enough for my comfort level. This episode could place the entire North American livestock industry at risk. — PETE CROW