Senators to USDA: Beef and lamb from Argentina still too dangerous for America
Tester, Enzi, Barrasso warn of ‘serious effects’ on livestock industry
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Both of Wyoming's U.S. Senators are teaming up with Montana Senator Jon Tester to send a stern warning to the U.S. Department of Agriculture: relaxing restrictions on beef and lamb from Argentina is still too dangerous for America.
Republican Senators Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, and five other senators today sent a letter, written by Tester, to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. The bipartisan letter expresses concern over a recent proposal by the USDA to allow beef and lamb from certain regions of Argentina, despite Argentina's "checkered past with Foot and Mouth Disease."
The U.S. put restrictions on Argentine meat products after a history of outbreaks of the highly contagious disease. Now the USDA wants to relax restrictions to allow beef imports from certain regions of Argentina. The Senators oppose this proposal and asked the USDA to analyze the economic risk of a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in America before making any final decisions.
"We have serious concerns about the implementation of such a plan," the Senators wrote. "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."
The Senators cited a recent study that estimates a Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak in Kansas would cost the state of Kansas and its livestock industry nearly $1 billion. An outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease several years ago cost Great Britain $60 billion.
"The USDA would be taking unnecessary risks if it implements this proposed rule, and put the United States livestock industry and our rural economies in jeopardy," the Senators wrote.
Foot and Mouth Disease affects mainly cattle, sheep and swine, but it can appear in other animals too. The virus causes severe blisters in animals' mouths and on their hooves, leading to weight loss and sometimes death.
Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., joined Tester, Enzi and Barrasso in signing the letter.
Full text of the letter appears below.
February 28th, 2008
The Honorable Ed Schafer
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Schafer:
We are writing to you to express our concern over the proposal by USDA to regionalize trade with Argentina for the importation of ruminants and ruminant products. Last January, the USDA proposed to allow for the importation of Argentine meat products into the United States despite Argentina's checkered past with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Under the USDA proposal, products could flow from designated regions in Argentina that are deemed to be FMD free.
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 United States herds poses an unacceptable risk to United States producers. The USDA will be unable to ensure that the disease will not enter FMD-free regions of Argentina and beyond.
The USDA would be taking unnecessary risks if it implements this proposed rule, and put the United States livestock industry and our rural economies in jeopardy. FMD is widely considered the most economically devastating of livestock diseases, and a recent study by Kansas State University found that an outbreak in the state of Kansas alone would cost more than $900 million.
Before issuing judgment on the proposal, we respectfully request that USDA carefully analyze the full economic cost of this proposal including the risk of a FMD outbreak in America, and the impact on prices paid to domestic producers from increased Argentinean imports. We also request that you note our strong objections to this proposal to regionalize imports.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Jon Tester, Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, Claire McCaskill, Byron Dorgan, Tim Johnson, Kent Conrad, Pete Domenici