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Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., announced Dec. 12 that they will file a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would overturn the Biden administration's recent decision to lift a long-standing ban on beef imports from Paraguay.
USDA issued a final rule on Nov. 14 allowing the import of beef from Paraguay to begin Dec. 14. The rule comes after 25 years of blocking Paraguay's access to the U.S. for beef products.
While senators push for a congressional vote, the secretaries of Agriculture from eight states send their own letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also raising their concerns over beef from Paraguay. The letter came from the state secretaries of Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.
"The U.S. is the largest, most reliable producer and consumer of beef in the world. We have the reputation of providing the safest and most efficient beef production system in the world. A FMD outbreak in the U.S. would severely impact our nation's economy and the people behind the product," the state secretaries wrote. "We urge USDA to consider pausing the implementation of this rule until a more reliable risk assessment can be completed based on modern visits in Paraguay."
While lawmakers and secretaries pointed to consumers, the U.S. essentially has no requirement that any beef imported from Paraguay would need to be labeled as such.
Earlier in December, Tester and Rounds introduced legislation to suspend beef imports from Paraguay in response to animal health concerns. Tester and Rounds have called on USDA to collect more up-to-date data before resuming beef imports from Paraguay, pointing to its history of foot and mouth disease. The secretaries, in their letter, also pointed out USDA inspectors last visited Paraguay in 2014.
Tester said, "The Biden administration has this one backwards -- resuming beef imports from a country with a recent history of foot and mouth disease is bad news for both Montana consumers and producers. Montana ranchers work hard to produce the best quality beef in the world, and it's clear that the USDA doesn't have the data to show that Paraguay meets the same animal health standards. I'm willing to take this fight to the Senate floor because it's clear that bureaucrats in Washington are endangering our food supply while giving a raw deal to American ranchers and consumers."
"The Biden administration's decision to allow beef imports from a country with a history of foot and mouth disease is a mistake that impacts South Dakota producers and consumers," said Rounds. "Our producers work tirelessly to produce the safest, highest quality and most affordable beef in the world. Our consumers should be able to confidently feed their families beef that has met the rigorous standards required in the United States. I am proud to partner with Sen. Tester to overturn this Biden administration rule that would allow beef imports from Paraguay."
APHIS AND FINAL RULE
Paraguay's cattle industry was hit by foot and mouth disease at the very end of 2011. The country implemented multiple rounds of vaccinations in its herd and the country has not had any new cases of FMD since 2012. USDA, in its proposed rule last spring, cited the Paraguay has a good system for animal identification and traceability. Yet, APHIS also pointed to challenges with FMD in South America as well. "As long as FMD is endemic in certain areas of South America, there is a potential risk of reintroduction of the disease into the export area," APHIS stated.
APHIS in its rule stated it recognized FMD is a "high-risk disease" but APHIS stated imports could start from Paraguay "provided certain conditions are met."
Paraguay is the world's eighth-largest exporter of beef with 70 countries open to buying beef from Paraguay, but 90% of its product goes to mainly to five countries: Chile, Russia, Israel, Taiwan and Brazil.
USDA estimated Paraguay could export volumes ranging from 3,250 metric tons to 6,500 metric tons of beef to the U.S. This would result in U.S. producer losses ranging from $12 million to $24 million. Yet, the analysis also indicated consumer gains of $14 million to $27 million. Thus, there is an "annual net social welfare gains of $1.6 million to $3 million." Some beef coming from Paraguay would likely displace beef imports from other countries.
As specific as that analysis was, USDA's rule did not include any modeling of the potential producer financial losses if FMD were to make it into the U.S. According to USMEF statistics, for the first 10 months of the year, the U.S. exported $8.3 billion in beef. If FMD hit, a strong percentage of that would immediately be gone.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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