APHIS extends comment period of Argentina beef imports rule

Beef industry remains opposed to moving forward on allowing beef imports from regions impacted with FMD without knowing USDA's process.

APHIS is extending the comment period for its proposed rule that would allow the importation of fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from northern Argentina, a region north of Patagonia South and Patagonia North B, under certain conditions.  

“We are taking this step in order to give interested parties additional time to prepare and submit comments,” APHIS said. The agency said it will consider all comments received on or before December 29, 2014.   

The rule has been opposed by many cattle groups as well as members of Congress because of the history of foot and mouth disease in the region and the potential for the disease to be transmitted to the U.S. and put U.S. livestock at risk.

Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., said the comment extension is a “good sign” that USDA is listening to the concerns already expressed.

NCBA, normally an advocate for open trade, has opposed the rulemaking process on re-allowing importation of beef from Argentina, as well as Brazil, which USDA proposed a rule earlier this spring. However, Woodall explained this is not about trade or access, but about a lack of process of ascertaining what the real threat is to the U.S. industry.

USDA has been unwilling to share the reports of site visits in the region, and those documents that have been shared have been in Portugese or Spanish with no translation. NCBA has been confused on the methodology of the grounds for the rule.

Two congressional letters have already been sent requesting a General Accountability Office audit on USDA’s process, which Woodall said GAO is in the process of completing currently. The issue has caused enough concern from both sides of the aisle that Woodall expects USDA will have to slow down on this rule.

The last case of FMD in the U.S. originated in Argentina. “Without the integrity of a solid process, there is no way the cattle industry is going to support these rules,” Woodall said.

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