APHIS finalizes rule allowing Argentine, Brazilian beef imports

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 29, 2015 - USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has finalized a rule that will allow regions of Argentina and Brazil to export fresh beef into the U.S., drawing protests from a prominent congressional food safety critic as well as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

In a press release, APHIS said it will allow imports from the two regions “under specific conditions that mitigate the risk of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).” The agency noted that its risk assessments indicated the beef can be safely imported.

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Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said she was “greatly disappointed” in the decision. She pointed out that the U.S. has not had a case of FMD since 1929, thanks in part to rules that ban importation of live animals and meat from countries such as Brazil and Argentina, which have experienced FMD outbreaks.

“The Government Accountability Office has been asked to study the risk of contamination from Argentina and Brazil, but that work has not yet been completed,” DeLauro said in a statement. “While these rules involve an animal health issue, both countries have a checkered food safety past. Recent audits show that there are deficiencies in both of their inspection systems.”

NCBA President Philip Ellis said this rule will be bad for both producers and consumers. While his organization has long been a proponent of trade, and despite a potential for lost market share, NCBA's position on this issue has been that no amount of trade “is worth jeopardizing our herd health.”

“The arrogance of this administration in continuing to press forward with rules that have a profound impact on industry, without consulting those affected, is appalling,” Ellis said in a statement. “The haste and sloppy nature of this rulemaking points clearly to the administration's political agenda in forcing this rule forward, literally in spite of the science.”

Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said APHIS is “thumbing its nose at members of Congress” by finalizing this rule before the requested GAO study could be completed. She also said this rule may have been rushed by the White House Office of Management and Budget for political gain, noting that Brazil's president is visiting the U.S. this week.

“APHIS transmitted those rules to OMB on May 22, 2015. They were released on June 26. OMB can take up to 90 days to review ‘significant' rules, but it rushed through the process,” Hauter said, pointing out that Food & Water Watch met with the OMB staff on June 12, arguing against approval. “What is especially repugnant about the timing of this announcement is the fact that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to meet with President Obama tomorrow.  She is going to be handed this as a welcome present.”

Technically, the rule is two separate rules - one for each country - that have moved together throughout the rulemaking process. Earlier, APHIS was criticized for moving the rules to OMB on May 22, the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, when the development would get little attention. According to APHIS, live cattle remain under an import ban; this rule only applies to fresh beef.

The rule will likely go into effect in late August or early September, 60 days after being published in the Federal Register.

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