Pete Bonds: Argentine beef imports would endanger U.S. cattle

Pete Bonds

On Aug. 29, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a rule proposal in the federal register that would allow the importation of live cattle and fresh or frozen beef from Northern Argentina.

APHIS would accomplish this by adding the Patagonia areas of Argentina to the list of regions considered free of foot-and-mouth disease.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is deeply concerned with this proposal. Foot-and-mouth disease is a severe and highly contagious viral illness that affects cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer and other animals with divided hooves. It is considered one of the most economically devastating livestock diseases in the world and poses a significant risk not only to our country’s cattle herd, but also to our national food security. Foot and mouth could also cost our industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

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I am extremely worried that if foot-and-mouth disease comes into the cattle herds, especially in Texas with the high population of feral hogs, we could see an unstoppable outbreak. Pigs are more susceptible to the disease than cattle, and with feral hogs being a problem in most of the state, the disease could spread throughout the country.

Also, if a foot-and-mouth outbreak were to occur in the U.S., I fear we would lack the ability and the amount of vaccine needed to control the disease.

APHIS conducted its risk analysis based on a series of site visits to Argentina to determine the foot-and-mouth risk status. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and other cattle industry groups requested written reports for these visits; however, APHIS informed us that written documentation wasn’t required for their site reviews. The lack of documentation makes me question the agency’s transparency and its ability to conduct an accurate and thorough review.

A third-party scientific review team from the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine objectively reviewed the APHIS risk analysis. The review team acknowledged limited or lacking methodological approaches in performing the risk assessment and poorly defined scope regarding the specific animal types and products for the risk assessment. There also was insufficient detail for geographical landmarks outlining the Patagonia region in the risk analysis and a lack of maps with the level of detail needed to be useful.

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APHIS believes the export region in northern Argentina is foot-and-mouth free because the World Organization for Animal Health recognizes the region as “FMD free with vaccination being practiced.” I disagree. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t recognize northern Argentina as being free of foot-and-mouth disease simply because vaccination against the disease is currently taking place in the export region.

Additionally, northern Argentina’s extensive border exposure to countries that are not recognized in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation as foot-and-mouth-free – including Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil – poses a major risk for the reintroduction of foot and mouth into the export region. The large border area is difficult to control, and Argentina has acknowledged that smuggling does occur at the borders.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is also very concerned about Argentina’s history of compliance problems and deficiencies with routine USDA and European Commission food safety audits for Argentina.

While our association supports open trade markets, we must always make certain the foreign countries we are importing beef from have proper animal health and food safety protocols in place. They must also have a proven history of being able to control foreign animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. These protocols should be substantiated by sound, scientific evidence.

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Simply put, I don’t believe Argentina can meet these critical standards to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the country.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association will be submitting comments expressing concern with the rule, and you can do the same by visiting and typing into the search screen: APHIS-2014-0032-0131. The deadline for submitting comments is Dec. 29.

It is important for cattle ranchers to voice our opposition to the APHIS rule proposal. If implemented, this rule could pose a major threat to cattle herds and detrimentally affect every cattle raiser’s business.

Protecting the U.S. cattle business from a catastrophic animal disease such as foot and mouth is a major priority for the industry. We will closely watch this rule proposal and do everything possible to block implementation so that we can continue producing a safe and healthy beef supply worldwide.

Pete Bonds is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He operates the Bonds Ranch in Saginaw.