The comment period closed for a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposal to allow the importation of beef from several states in Brazil with a recent history of unresolved foot and mouth disease (FMD).
The rule, originally introduced in December, would allow the importation of beef from 14 states in Brazil. APHIS extended the new comment deadline until April 22 so that industry members could thoroughly review the implications of the rule.
According to the USDA, the proposed regulation changes would allow the importation of chilled or frozen beef while continuing to protect the United States from an introduction of foot-and-mouth disease. However, there is concern stemming largely from whether Brazil is willing to put the protocols in place to ensure FMD is never introduced into the United States.
Collin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., said NCBA has undergone an extensive review process evaluating the proposal, but still has many questions left unanswered. Many of the documents for the proposal are in Portuguese which has added to confusion. In addition, NCBA filed Freedom of Information Act requests from APHIS and the Food Safety Information Service to better understand the reasoning in the rule process, but has not received the documentation.
In its comments, NCBA asked the agency to provide an additional 120 days to continue to look at the documents and hopefully receive the documents requested under the FOIA.
Woodall also said NCBA asked APHIS to completely withdraw the rule and do a more in-depth risk assessment and economic assessment which he said did not seem thorough enough in its present form.
“We’re not placing our domestic herd at risk just to get this rule across the goal line,” Woodall said.
FMD is a devastating disease which can be spread on fresh and frozen products. Woodall said the loss of markets that could come from the U.S. having its own domestic case of FMD could result in the loss of $5 billion in beef exports. In addition, the financial impact of depopulation that comes with trying to limit FMD exposure would cripple the industry and could result in losses up to $50 billion.
The National Farmers Union also voiced opposition to the rule and asked for the ban to be maintained. Their comments cited a 2002 study which found that if an epidemic similar to the outbreak that occurred in the U.K. in 2001 were to strike the United States, a loss of $14 billion in U.S. farm income (in 2002 dollars) would result. This includes costs of quarantine and eradication of animals, a ban on exports, and reduced consumer confidence. In addition, the disease could spread to any cloven-hoofed animals, endangering other domestic livestock like sheep or pigs, and wild deer and antelope that form the basis of the U.S. hunting industry.
NFU said in its comments that inconsistencies between animal health disclosures reported by the APHIS and the World Organization for Animal Health “erode our confidence in the safety of beef imports from countries with a history of FMD presence and a poor food safety record.”
FDA recalled Brazilian cooked and canned meat on three occasions in 2010 due to drug contamination, NFU wrote.
Their comments also said that Brazil has not been able to prevent the spread of FMD into its borders from neighboring countries, and as recently as 2011, Paraguay reported two outbreaks of FMD within 250 miles of the Brazilian border.
The last case of FMD in the 14-state region under consideration for the rule was in 2001, and the states are considered “FMD-Free” by the OIE.