December 19, 2023


US officials accused of not adequately addressing FMD risk as beef imports from Paraguay permitted




US federal officials did not sufficiently assess the risk posed by a devastating cattle disease when they recently decided to allow beef imports from Paraguay, according to agriculture officials of several top beef-producing states in the United States.


A new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that ended a 25-year prohibition on those imports went into effect on December 14.


The prohibition was the result of Paraguay's struggles to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The USDA estimated that a severe outbreak in the US has the potential to cost more than US$200 billion.


FMD was eradicated in the US nearly 100 years ago, according to the USDA.


Paraguay's last known outbreak of the disease was about a decade ago, but the USDA does not consider the country free of the disease as its cattle are still routinely vaccinated against it.


The USDA analysed the risks to domestic livestock posed by the import of chilled or frozen beef from Paraguay — at the country's request to allow those imports — and proposed a rule to allow the imports in March. That rule was officially codified last month and is now in effect.


"Our risk analysis concluded that the overall risk associated with importing fresh beef from Paraguay is low and that Paraguay has the infrastructure and emergency response capabilities needed to effectively report, contain and eradicate (the disease) in the event of an outbreak and to do so in a timely manner," the USDA wrote in regard to the new rule.


The rule has requirements that the disease has not been detected in the country for at least a year and that the cattle are inspected before and after slaughter for signs of the illness.


However, beef industry groups and some federal lawmakers have opposed the change, claiming that the risk analysis was based on outdated information. They said the USDA's last visit to Paraguay was more than nine years ago.


Aditionally, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and officials from seven other US states asked former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary, to halt the change and review the risks further.


"While we are strong proponents of robust trade, we must do so in a manner that does not put our livestock producers at risk," Naig and the others wrote in a letter to Vilsack. "We urge USDA to consider pausing the implementation of this rule until a more reliable risk assessment can be completed based on modern visits in Paraguay."


Agriculture officials in Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming also signed the letter.


The letter mimicked the criticism that has been leveled for months by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The association alleged that the conclusions of the USDA's risk analysis were predetermined by government officials who wish to bolster international relations with Paraguay.


"While winning friends and allies in South America may be part of the long-term interests of US diplomacy, it should not be done on the backs of US cattle producers or by putting at risk the health and livelihood of the safest and most efficient cattle and beef production system in the world," Kent Bacus, an executive of the association, said in a news release last month.


This month, US Rep. Randy Feenstra joined 13 colleagues in a letter to Vilsack that sought to delay the imports amid further review of the safety risks.


"By allowing countries like Paraguay — where foot-and-mouth disease remains prevalent — to sell their beef in the United States, we unnecessarily threaten our domestic herds with disease and jeopardise the financial well-being of cattle producers and their families," Feenstra said.

- Des Moines Register

Video >

Follow Us