In a move that drew immediate criticism, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it will add the Patagonia Region of Argentina to the list of regions considered free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and rinderpest. The proposed rule was published in the Aug. 28 Federal Register.

The move opens the export gates, allowing that region of Argentina to export live cattle and fresh and frozen beef to the U.S.

In a Stakeholder Announcement, APHIS defended its decision, saying, “In response to the Government of Argentina's request to recognize the Patagonia Region as FMD-free, APHIS conducted an assessment.

“Based on the assessment, APHIS determined that FMD is not present in the Patagonia Region of Argentina, and that the surveillance prevention, and control measures implemented by Argentina in that particular region were sufficient to minimize the likelihood of introducing FMD into the United States through the importation of susceptible ruminants and ruminant commodities.  It is important to note that rinderpest has never been established in South America—no South American country has ever reported the disease except Brazil and it was quickly eradicated nearly a century ago.

“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.  These restrictions ensure that there is no commingling of products from regions with a lesser animal health status.”

The proposal drew immediate fire from cattlemen, including Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). In a statement, the Victoria, TX, rancher says NCBA is deeply concerned by the proposal.

“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. Northern Argentina is a region that is not recognized as being free of FMD 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,” McCan says.

The South Texas cattleman points out that FMD is an extremely contagious viral disease of cloven-hooved animals and many wildlife species. “This disease is considered to be one of the most economically devastating livestock diseases in the world and an outbreak of FMD could ultimately threaten the entire U.S. economy as well jeopardize our national food security,” he says.

APHIS conducted its risk analysis based on a series of site visits to Argentina to determine the FMD risk status of these regions, according to McCan. “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,” McCan says.

"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 U.S. cattle herd. Strict transparency for the adherence to sound science must be the basis for all animal health decisions of this magnitude," McCan says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Meat Export Fedration confirmed that U.S. beef does not have access to Argentina due to BSE-related restrictions.

The proposed rule to allow Argentina to export chilled and frozen beef to the U.S. follows an earlier proposal by USDA to expand Brazil’s ability to export beef to the U.S. The comment period on that proposed rule closed in April, but so far, USDA has not issued a final rule.

Public comment for the proposed rule concerning imports from Argentina is open until Oct. 28. For more information and to comment, click here.

 

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