Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and seven other U.S. Senators sent a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer in March stating their strong concerns about USDA relaxing restrictions on beef and lamb imports from Argentina. USDA has proposed a rule, “Change in Disease Status of the Patagonia South Region of Argentina With Regard to Rinderpest and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD),” that would allow for the importation of beef and lamb from Argentina.

The letter states, “We have serious concerns about the implementation of such a plan. Questions remain about the effectiveness of animal disease controls and tracking in Argentina. Weaknesses in this system could have serious effects on the American livestock industry. FMD is among the most contagious of livestock diseases and is spread by air. As you know, FMD continues to be found in cattle in Argentina and the risk of transmission to U.S. herds poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. producers. The USDA will be unable to ensure that the disease will not enter FMD-free regions of Argentina and beyond.”

Senators joining Tester include John Bassaro (R-WY), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Byron Dorgan (D-MT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) commented, “The risk to U.S. ag and to our cattle producers of introducing FMD into our country is too great and the economic and animal-health consequences are far too significant to prematurely allow a change in the disease status of Patagonia South as it relates to FMD and rinderpest at this time. USDA should keep in mind that their actions must protect the health of the U.S. cattle herd, as well as protect the economic livelihood of U.S. cattlemen and other affected livestock species as trade is resumed with all international partners.”

NCBA is also questioning why the administration is trying to increase beef imports while U.S. beef exports are still banned in other countries.

Jay Truitt, NCBA vice president of government affairs, added, “Clearly USDA has its priorities mixed up. It's unconscionable for USDA to work to expand access for any other beef into our country when they have yet to fulfill their responsibilities regarding the reopening of export markets for U.S. beef and breeding stock.

“Science is always the primary concern for making these types of decisions but you just can't ignore the financial impacts of these types of decisions — especially when costs of production are skyrocketing largely based on government policies. We need relief and we need results that mean beef and cattle sales to previously strong markets,” he says.