Bloomberg: Senators Fight to Stop Beef From Paraguay Being Imported to US

by Dean Scott

A bipartisan Senate duo wants to buck Biden administration policy by again blocking beef imports from Paraguay, according to a copy of a resolution first obtained by Bloomberg Government.

Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) today will introduce the measure, which would reverse a November rule by the US Department of Agriculture to restart beef imports from the country, if it passes into law.

Beef imports to the US from Paraguay were banned in the late 1990s amid concerns over outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the South American country. Agriculture and rancher groups including the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and the US Cattlemen’s Association are backing the Senate proposal.

Tester and Rounds argue that lifting the ban would threaten the profits of farmers and ranchers in their states, who they say must satisfy more stringent US inspection and other meat safety standards. The senators plan to offer the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which provides fast-track procedures for the chamber to pass the measure with a simple majority.

“Cutting corners to resume beef imports from a country with a recent history of foot and mouth disease is bad news for both Montana consumers and producers, and I won’t let it stand,” Tester said in a statement. The senator is seeking reelection this fall to a fourth term, and Democrats likely need to hold his seat if they have any hope of retaining the Senate majority.

The USDA backed up its decision to resume Paraguay imports with a risk analysis drawing from several site visits to Paraguay in 2008 and 2014, along with a detailed review of more recent data. It found that foot-and-mouth disease had not been detected in Paraguay in more than 10 years.

Foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. While the disease does not have have serious health implications for humans, it can kill or debilitate animals and causes severe losses in meat and milk production.

Tester and Rounds have urged the Agriculture Department to collect more up-to-date data before resuming the beef imports, noting that the USDA’s analysis was drafted in 2018.

“Consumers across America should be able to confidently feed their families beef that they know has met the rigorous standards required in the United States,” Rounds said.

Most of Paraguay’s beef cattle production is exported, with only about 40% of it consumed domestically. Roughly 90% of its beef is exported to five markets: Chile, Russia, Israel, Taiwan and Brazil, according to the USDA’s analysis.

The bipartisan Senate challenge follows a similar resolution (H. J. Res. 115) introduced in the House last week by Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas).

The USDA’s final rule sets conditions including requiring verification that foot-and-mouth disease has not been found in Paraguay during the past 12 month. It also stipulates that meat must come from producers where foot and mouth disease wasn’t present during the lifetime of any animals, and that animals are inspected before and after death.