Tester Introduces Legislation to Block Foreign Sheep and Goat Imports to Protect American Herds and Producers

Bill bans sheep and goat products from countries with historically high risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)

In order to protect the health of Montana sheep and goat herds and the economic security of Montana producers, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation to continue the suspension of the importation of sheep, goats, and sheep and goat-derived products from nations with historically high rates of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” until more research can be conducted.

“Opening up the United States’ sheep and goat markets to foreign products could have disastrous effects on Montana’s producers,” said Tester. “There are still too many unknowns presented in the new USDA rule, and we need comprehensive scientific and economic reviews before we implement such a significant policy change. Our domestic herders have worked too hard to improve the health of their livestock to jeopardize it on half-baked policy decision.”

Currently, the United States greatly restricts the importation of sheep, goats, and sheep and goat-derived products from a number of countries due to concerns about the transmission of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease) and scrapie. In 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed the elimination of its BSE-specific restrictions on the importation of sheep and goats following scientific research that showed that it is difficult for BSE to spread among sheep. The rule languished for five years before USDA moved this year to implement it and allow imports beginning in January 2022. Opponents of the new rule argue that the science and data used by the USDA is outdated and flawed, and Tester’s legislation would require a review of the 2016 study before lifting regulations.

“Thank you to Senator Tester for his leadership on this issue,” said Ben Lehfeldt, a sheep rancher from Lavina, board member for the Montana Wool Growers Association, and the Secretary/Treasurer of the American Sheep Industry Association. “Montana sheep ranchers have faced a lot of uncertainty and hardship this year, and implementation of this untested rule could seriously hurt our bottom lines. Montana sheep producers appreciate Senator Tester standing with us on this imports bill, and his continued work on fixing ELAP for producers facing this year’s historic drought.”

Tester’s legislation is supported by the Montana Wool Growers Association, the American Sheep Industry Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Tester has been a strong advocate for protecting the integrity of Montana raised livestock, and has recently introduced legislation to ban Brazilian beef imports in the wake of repeated delays in reporting BSE. Earlier this year he also introduced legislation to reinstate Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL), to ensure that only beef raised in the United States is labeled “Product of the USA.”