Agri-Pulse: Senate approves resolution to overturn Paraguayan beef export rule

by Noah Wicks

The Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to reverse the Agriculture Department’s decision to lift a long-standing ban on beef imports from Paraguay.

Despite White House opposition, a Congressional Review Act resolution jointly introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., was adopted by a veto-proof margin, 70-25. The vote was a major win for beef state lawmakers critical of USDA’s analysis of foot-and-mouth disease risks posed by the South American country.

Tester, who is running for re-election in a heavily GOP state, argued in a floor speech before the vote that the Biden administration “butchered” its decision to allow Paraguay to resume exports of fresh, mature, and deboned beef, which had previously been halted due to foot and mouth disease concerns.

He took issue with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s risk analysis. APHIS, which made site visits in 2008 and 2014, otherwise relied on records from Paraguay’s animal health agency, scientific literature and publicly available information when doing the assessment.

“I have serious concerns that Paraguay does not currently meet the animal health standards that are in place to warrant access to our markets,” he said.

Eight state agriculture commissioners and all three of the major U.S. cattle producer groups — National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and R-Calf USA — have similarly questioned the USDA rule. The agriculture commissioners urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter last fall to pause its implementation until the agency conducts another risk analysis.

APHIS has stood by its decision to allow Paraguayan imports, noting that foot-and-mouth disease has not been detected in the South American nation in more than 10 years. In the final rule, the agency’s administrator, Michael Watson, pushed back on some commenters’ claims that the agency relied on outdated information in the risk analysis, saying the agency analyzed more recent Paraguayan data on top of the 2008 and 2014 site visits.

“While the risk analysis included data from site visits to Paraguay in 2008 and 2014, it also included a review of more recent data provided by Paraguay, and APHIS periodically reviewed the risk profile of Paraguay after the risk analysis was drafted to determine whether the conclusions were still valid, with the last such review occurring in 2022,” Watson said in the final rule.

During a recent House Ag Committee hearing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Paraguay’s system is equivalent to USDA “in terms of their ability to detect, their ability to quarantine, their ability to respond quickly” to animal disease.

The CRA resolution still needs to be approved by the House, and would likely be vetoed by President Joe Biden.

The White House decried the measure Tuesday in a statement of administration policy, which said Paraguay’s ability to access U.S. beef markets is “critical” to the South American nation, which is currently unable to access some Russian beef markets after denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Paraguay, which is the only South American that recognizes Taiwan, also faces a “de facto” embargo on direct beef exports to China, the document said.

“This resolution would amplify the false narratives pushed by our adversaries that the United States is not a reliable economic partner,” the statement said. “And it would seriously harm U.S. national security interests, especially our efforts to support partners around the world who seek our help to resist economic coercion.”