House coalition opposes plans to accept importation of Paraguay beef

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A bipartisan group of House lawmakers are asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to intervene and stop the potential importation of Paraguay beef citing concerns about the potential for highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease.

U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, R-KS, and Jim Costa, D-CA, chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, led 19 of their colleagues in sending a letter to Vilsack opposing a new rule. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new rule relies on decade- and nearly decade-old site visits to Paraguay in 2008 and 2014 to overcome the prohibition of importing beef from the country, the members said.

“USDA relied on outdated site visits, irrelevant inspections, and inadequate date to overcome these prohibitions,” the members wrote. “Paraguay knows what we all know—the U.S. is the largest, most reliable consumer of beef in the world. We have that reputation because of the tireless work of beef producers to provide the safest and most efficient beef production system in the world. The U.S. should not expand our market to unsafe actors at the risk of the health and livelihood of U.S. agricultural producers and consumers.”

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is publishing a final rule that will allow the importation of fresh beef from Paraguay. APHIS proposed this action in March 2023 and accepted public comment for 60 days following its publication. This final rule was published in the Federal Register the week of Nov. 13, 2023. The rule is effective 30 days after publication.

APHIS conducted a risk analysis and concluded that fresh beef can be imported safely from Paraguay under certain conditions. These conditions include verifying that:

  • Foot-and-mouth disease has not been diagnosed in the exporting region in the past 12 months;
  • The meat comes from premises where FMD has not been present during the lifetime of any of the animals, and
  • The animals were inspected before and after death, among others.

The House coalition urged USDA to halt implementation of the new rule until a more reliable risk assessment may be completed based on modern site visits in Paraguay. A beef industry spokesman applauded the effort.

“The United States has the highest food safety and animal health standards in the world, and any country who wishes to trade with the United States must demonstrate that they can meet those standards,” said Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Paraguay’s long history of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks and the lack of recent site visits, makes importing beef from Paraguay too risky. All our trade partners need to have inspection systems that can clearly provide an equivalent level of safety for animal health to prevent a possible foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United States.”

According to APHIS, these measures are consistent with the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, which governs, among other things, trade in animal products. As further detailed in the final rule, fresh (chilled or frozen) deboned beef will be eligible for import, and APHIS expect beef imports to fewer than 6500 metric tons annually, in part due to a quota Paraguay faces on beef exports to the United States.

As reported in the High Plains Journal.

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