Roll Call: Senate backs Tester move to block Paraguayan beef imports

by Rachel Oswald

Tester’s resolution is the first from a Democrat under the Biden administration

The Senate on Thursday easily passed a bipartisan joint resolution of disapproval to overturn an Agriculture Department rule that would end a long-standing ban on beef imports from Paraguay.

The 70-25 vote came on a resolution filed under the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers a limited window to try to nullify new executive branch rules. The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

The White House on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” the Senate effort on both fair trade and broader national security grounds. But the administration didn’t say President Joe Biden would veto the measure if the House clears it.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection this year, sponsored the resolution.

“I come from Montana,” Tester said in floor remarks ahead of the vote Thursday. “We raise a lot of beef and if you come from a state like that, you understand how catastrophic lifting the ban on Paraguay beef is.”

It’s the first disapproval resolution to be filed under the CRA by a Democrat during the Biden administration.

“USDA conducted a rigorous scientific evaluation including site visits, a full risk analysis, and ongoing review of the region’s animal health status and concluded that the risk of fresh beef imports from Paraguay is low,” the White House budget office said in a statement of administration policy. “This rule will not displace domestic fresh beef production as Paraguayan imports are subject to the existing aggregate quota level currently applied to a number of Latin American and other countries.”

The Paraguayan beef rule went into effect late last year after first being officially proposed in March 2023 by the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service after its risk analysis turned up no evidence of foot-and-mouth disease diagnoses in Paraguay in the prior year.

“The truth is the administration butchered this decision,” Tester said, arguing that beef producers in Paraguay do not follow the “same high standards” as Montana ranchers do in managing their cattle herds. “While the chances of foot-and-mouth disease to some may appear low, the effects of one outbreak can be devastating.”

The White House couched its reasoning for lifting the ban on Paraguayan beef imports on foreign policy and national security grounds. The statement noted that Russia imposed restrictions on Paraguayan beef exporters after the Paraguayan government condemned Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. And the South American country is already under a de facto ban from directly exporting beef to China on account of its continued recognition of Taiwan.

“Access to the U.S. market is critical for Paraguay to recover exports lost to Russia and to withstand pressure from the [People’s Republic of China] to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Taiwan,” the statement of administration policy said. “This resolution would amplify the false narratives pushed by our adversaries that the United States is not a reliable economic partner.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the disapproval resolution and whose home state of South Dakota is another major producer of beef, spoke against Paraguayan beef imports.

“Our consumers should be able to confidently feed their families beef that has met the rigorous standards required within the United States,” Rounds said Thursday. “The United States has not had a case of foot-and-mouth disease since 1929. We want to keep it that way by reversing this rule until a working group has had an opportunity to evaluate the threat to food safety and animal health posed by Paraguay beef.”

Tester’s resolution has some influential lobbying clout behind it, including the American Farm Bureau Association and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The House version was introduced last month by Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas. It has 22 co-sponsors, including one Democrat: Freshman Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Colo., who like Tester represents a seat that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales considers a Toss-up in November.