In two separate letters sent by Congress, an audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office has been requested in response to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's proposed rule to allow the importation of fresh and frozen beef from regions in Brazil and Argentina, as well as live cattle from Argentina. The audits are to focus on the methodology and controls used in the site visit review process, which were the foundation for these decisions.
"Our concern stems from the risk of introduction of Foot and Mouth Disease, which is the most economically damaging livestock disease, and one of the most contagious diseases, in the world," according to National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. chief veterinarian Kathy Simmons. "The last case of FMD in the United States was in 1929 and was brought in from Argentina. That area of the world has been plagued with this disease and reintroduction could risk the health and well-being of our domestic livestock herds."
The letter signed by Reps. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.); Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee; Pete Sessions (R., Texas), chair of the House Rules Committee; Rick Crawford (R., Ark.); Jim Costa (D., Calif.); and Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) emphasized the importance of trade, but not at the risk of animal health or harming our domestic food supply.
"While we are staunch advocates for open markets and free trade, we will not ignore the fact that unfettered access of these products has the potential to cause significant harm to our domestic food supply," the letter stated. "Until a timely and independent study can be conducted on the methodology and management controls of the APHIS site visits to the exporting country to verify the animal health data, we shall not abide risking our nation's food supply, health, and economy."
The last documented case of FMD in Argentina was in 2006. In April, the Food Safety Inspection Service released an audit that found substantial flaws related to Brazil's food safety regulation requirement. An independent third-party review also identified significant weaknesses in the methodology of the risk analysis for the Argentina proposals, specifically the APHIS hazard analysis and the exposure assessment, as well as an overly subjective qualitative format.
The second letter, which was sent this week by the Texas delegation echoed industry concerns, and stated that research indicates a 0.3 to 0.6% loss in gross domestic product for countries that suffer an FMD outbreak.
"It is imperative that the best interests of our nation's food supply, health and economy be properly considered," states the letter signed by 27 members of the Texas delegation. "Until a timely and independent study can be conducted concerning the overall process, documentation, and risk assessments utilized to formulate these rules, we cannot support their implementation."