Lawmakers could delay beef imports for 'years,' White House says

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 29, 2015 - Imports of beef from Brazil and Argentina could be blocked for years by requirements that lawmakers are trying to impose on the Agriculture Department, the White House says. 

Differing provisions in both the Senate and House versions of the USDA appropriations measures would require the department to conduct additional study of the potential risks for bringing food-and-mouth disease into the United States. 

A four-page letter that the Office of Management and Budget sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee this week also objects to a provision, carried over from the fiscal 2015 spending measure, that gives schools relief from whole-grains requirement for school meals. 

Lets Talk Food

Both the House and Senate Appropriations committees adopted amendments to their Agriculture spending bills that would require USDA to conduct a comprehensive risk evaluation of beef imports from Brazil and Argentina. 

To address food safety concerns, the House version also would force USDA to conduct additional site visits to beef slaughtering and processing facilities in both countries. The department would be required to provide reports to the committees on each site visit. 

The Senate version, proposed by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., omits that mandate for site visits, but it would require USDA to assess the potential economic impact of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) being introduced in the United States. USDA also would have to report on what it has done to implement recommendations the Government Accountability Office made for improving the emergency response to an animal disease outbreak.

Both provisions were added to the spending bills after the administration finalized two rules June 28 to end bans on the products. Food safety advocates joined producer groups in criticizing the USDA action. The rules were released one day ahead of a visit to Washington by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff 

“These rules were based on objective analyses of risk and the identification of appropriate mitigation measures and reflected diligent work including site visits and economic analysis finding that the rules would have a net benefit to the U.S. economy,” said the OMB letter on the Senate bill. “Completing the requirements listed in the bill before these rules can be effective would, at a minimum, delay the implementation of the rules, potentially by years.”

OMB sent a similar letter to the House Appropriations Committee before the import provision was adopted by that panel, so there is no mention of the issue. 

Tester said, "Good," when told Thursday that the White House warned that his amendment could delay the imports for years. 

FMD “is incredibly contagious. It spreads like wildfire, so we want we ought to be doing this with that in mind,” Tester said. 

Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for the National Farmers Union, said his group was “gravely concerned” about a potential FMD outbreak. The Senate provision “would protect American family farmers and ranchers from a potentially devastating disease by requiring a more thorough evaluation of associated risks," he said.

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Chase Adams, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the requirement for a quantitative risk analysis would bring the USDA rules in line what has been done in other cases. 

Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, said the House bill's requirements for site visits should be included in any final language that Congress approves. Both countries “have had food safety issues raised by FSIS in the past over the products that they are currently eligible to export to the U.S.,” he said.  

The OMB letter also accuses appropriators of underfunding the Food and Drug Administration's implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act - FDA is included in the Agriculture spending bill, as well as research and energy programs at USDA. 

The whole-grains waiver provision is unnecessary, the letter says, because the USDA has provided states and school districts ample flexibility in meeting the requirement that all grains be "whole-grain rich." Continuing the waiver provisions would suggest that the waivers “are not dependent on the availability of reasonably priced whole grain options,” OMB says. 

Some schools have complained that there aren't enough reasonably priced whole grain products that kids like.

The letter also says that the bill would provide only 10 percent of what the White House requested for the Rural Energy for America Program, which funds renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The bill would also provide just $3 million for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, about 90 percent less than what was authorized under the 2014 farm bill, the letter says. #30

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