The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's proposed rule to allow the importation of fresh beef from specific Brazilian states is currently up for public comment, but producers' chance to weigh in ends Friday.
The rule, proposed in December, would allow the importation of fresh chilled or frozen beef but would continue to protect the United States from an introduction of foot-and-mouth disease, USDA said.
Based on a risk assessment and series of site visits, APHIS concluded that Brazil has the veterinary infrastructure in place to detect and effectively eradicate a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak if necessary.
The decision sparked some opposition, especially from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who said USDA should back off from the change on concerns of domestic cattle health.
Tester told USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in January that the current restrictions on Brazilian beef are in place for good reason – to protect U.S. cattle from foot-and-mouth disease and American ranchers from losing valuable livestock.
FMD, he said, is a contagious and destructive livestock disease that American farmers have worked hard to avoid. Tester also questioned Brazil's food safety standards, pointing out three occasions in 2010 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled some Brazilian meat products.
Tester, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, each requested an extension for the public comment period, though USDA has not altered the end date of Feb. 21.
In public comments, NCBA said that while it appreciates the efforts of USDA APHIS in expanding export markets for beef based on internationally sound science, it too has concerns about FMD to the naïve cattle herd in the U.S.
NCBA also cited APHIS' own assessment that found controlling an FMD outbreak in the U.S. could cost between $37 and $42 billion (in 2011 dollars).
As of Feb. 18, USDA had received 367 public comments regarding the proposal, most of which reiterated concern about the proposal.
Opponent Hank Payne of New Braunfels, Texas, writes: "I'm very much against importing beef from Brazil as a fresh product. One of my fears for the beef industry has been hoof and mouth disease. I'm not opposed to importing beef from countries with a safe product, but let's not take risk that isn't needed."
To comment or view others' comments, visit the Federal Register, docket APHIS-2009-0017.