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Argentine import relaxation puts US producers on edge

Beef Central, 02/09/2014

US cattle producers have expressed deep concern about a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal to add the Patagonia region of Argentina to the list of regions considered free of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Rinderpest.

US cattle industry leaders say if adopted the rule will open the US to exports of live cattle and fresh and frozen beef from the region, and will expose the US cattle herd to unacceptable risks through the possible introduction of the FMD virus.

The proposed rule change was published on the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Federal Register on Friday. It is currently out for public comment and is scheduled to take effect in 60 days.

“Our extreme concern is only further magnified by the associated proposed rule to allow chilled or frozen beef to be imported from the region of Northern Argentina,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president Bob McCan, a cattleman from Victoria, Texas, in a statement.

“Northern Argentina is a region that is not recognised as being free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease by APHIS.

“We strongly believe that these recent actions by APHIS present a significant risk to the health and well-being of the nation’s cattle herd through the possible introduction of FMD virus.”

The NCBA statement described FMD as an extremely contagious viral disease of cloven-hooved animals and many wildlife species. It said the disease was considered one of the most economically devastating livestock diseases in the world. An outbreak of FMD could ultimately threaten the entire US economy as well jeopardise national food security.

The peak cattle industry body also challenged the integrity of APHIS’ risk assessment process.

“APHIS conducted their risk analysis based on a series of site visits to Argentina to determine the FMD risk status of these regions. NCBA’s repeated requests for written reports for these APHIS site visits to Argentina have gone unanswered. Finally, we were informed by APHIS that written reports are not required for APHIS site reviews. This lack of documentation and an obvious lack of management controls for the site review process calls into question the integrity and quality assurance for the entire risk analysis. Valid science-based decisions are not possible in this flawed system.

“It is evident that APHIS has charged blindly forward in making this announcement, ignoring the findings of a third-party scientific review identifying major weaknesses in the methodology of the risk analysis that formed the foundation for  the APHIS decision-making process. The third-party scientific review uncovered deficiencies in the APHIS hazard analysis and the exposure assessment, as well as an overly subjective qualitative format for the risk analysis.

“NCBA remains committed to supporting open trade markets, level playing fields, and utilizing science-based standards to facilitate international trade. At the same time, no amount of trade is worth sacrificing the health and safety of the United States cattle herd. Strict transparency for the adherence to sound science must be the basis for all animal health decisions of this magnitude.”

The Beef Magazine news website reported that the US Meat Export Federation had confirmed that US beef does not have access to Argentina due to BSE-related restrictions.

APHIS defends decision

In a statement APHIS said it conducted an assessment in response to a request by the Government of Argentina for the US to recognise the Patagonia Region as FMD-free.

APHIS said it determined that FMD was not present in the region, and that the surveillance prevention, and control measures implemented by Argentina in that particular region were sufficient to minimise the likelihood of introducing FMD into the United States through the importation of susceptible ruminants and ruminant commodities.

“While the Patagonia Region will be declared free of FMD, the region will be added to the list of regions that are subject to certain restrictions designed to lessen the risk of introducing FMD into the United States, in accordance with APHIS regulations,” the statement said.

“These restrictions ensure that there is no co-mingling of products from regions with a lesser animal health status.

“FMD is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed livestock like cattle and swine.  The disease can be controlled and eradicated with a vaccination; however vaccination can affect the potential risk of FMD transmission through the import of animals and animal products.  A country that no longer vaccinates against FMD presents a lower risk than a country that continues to vaccinate.  The Patagonia Region of Argentina does not vaccinate against FMD, therefore APHIS can recognize the region as free of FMD.”

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association also has voiced its opposition to the proposal, citing concerns about “the incomplete and undocumented site reviews USDA conducted to prepare this information and the lack of a quantitative analysis of the data”, according to a release.

Public comment is open until October 28, 2014. For further information on the proposed rule click here

 

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