Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is not something to be trifled with. Cattle producers have been nervous since USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) suggested last year that the U.S. should allow imports of unprocessed meat products from the Patagonia South region of Argentina. It is considered FMD free and hasn't had a case of the disease reported since 1976.
Now, 18 months after the original proposal, both houses of Congress are considering bills to prevent APHIS from adopting the regionalization plan.
"We heard it was coming back to life,” says Jess Peterson, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association's (USCA) representative in Washington, D.C.
The FMD Prevention Act of 2008 was introduced in the Senate on July 10 by Senators Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. In the House, Representatives Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Barbara Cubin of Wyoming opened the issue following a nudge by Leo McDonnell, a founder of R-CALF and leader in USCA, and Peterson.
Cause for concern. McDonnell, in a teleconference after the bill was introduced, says on a case-by-case basis, the risks posed by FMD—both the ease and speed with which it can spread and the devastating economic danger it poses—are too great to take any chances with regionalization concepts.
The response is not surprising coming from the protectionist side of the beef industry, although McDonnell noted the economic impact of beef imports from Argentina would be minimal.
McDonnell's concerns were not far from those expressed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) when the rule was proposed last year. NCBA—whose policies typically lean toward open borders—noted that Argentina is surrounded by Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia—countries with active FMD problems. Of its neighbors, only Chile is FMD-free.
"I remain concerned that while the United States has been free of FMD for nearly 80 years, the same cannot be said for Argentina,” says Sam Holland, president of the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials and South Dakota state veterinarian. "Until Argentina can prove its infrastructure by remaining free of FMD, we need to ensure the safety of our livestock at home and prevent the spread of this devastating disease. This is not a political issue; this legislation represents a common sense approach.”
Table: Where We Buy Our Beef and Veal Imports
Top Producer, Summer 2008