The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's proposed rule to allow the importation of beef from a region in Argentina is concerning for beef producers, says National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bob McCan.
Thursday, USDA announced it is considering adding the Patagonia areas of Argentina to the list of regions considered free of Foot-and-Mouth disease and subsequently allowing the importation of live cattle and fresh or frozen beef into the United States from this region.
An associated proposed rule would allow chilled or frozen beef to be imported from the region of Northern Argentina, a region that is not recognized as being free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease by APHIS.
"We strongly believe that these recent actions by APHIS present a significant risk to the health and well-being of the nation's cattle herd through the possible introduction of FMD virus," an NCBA statement noted.
FMD is a contagious viral disease of cloven-hooved animals and many wildlife species, considered to be one of the most economically devastating livestock diseases in the world, NCBA said. An outbreak of FMD could ultimately threaten the entire U.S. economy as well jeopardize national food security, the group adds.
"APHIS conducted their risk analysis based on a series of site visits to Argentina to determine the FMD risk status of these regions. NCBA's repeated requests for written reports for these APHIS site visits to Argentina have gone unanswered. Finally, we were informed by APHIS that written reports are not required for APHIS site reviews.
"This lack of documentation and an obvious lack of management controls for the site review process calls into question the integrity and quality assurance for the entire risk analysis. Valid science-based decisions are not possible in this flawed system," the NCBA statement said.
NCBA charges that APHIS ignored findings of a third-party scientific review that identified weaknesses in the methodology of the risk analysis that formed the foundation for the APHIS decision-making process.
The third-party scientific review uncovered deficiencies in the APHIS hazard analysis and the exposure assessment, as well as an overly subjective qualitative format for the risk analysis, NCBA said.
"NCBA remains committed to supporting open trade markets, level playing fields, and utilizing science-based standards to facilitate international trade. At the same time, no amount of trade is worth sacrificing the health and safety of the United States cattle herd. Strict transparency for the adherence to sound science must be the basis for all animal health decisions of this magnitude."
A similar proposal earlier this year to import fresh beef from some Brazilian states was also opposed by NCBA and the National Farmers Union on grounds that it, too, could result in FMD contamination.