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The lingering questions of Brazil and FMD

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 August 2016

Some will call it curious timing. Others will say the stars lined up out of kismet and good fortune. But just days before Brazil would light the Olympic flame for the first time on South American soil, the USDA extended its own peace offering to the world’s fifth-largest nation.

In a bilateral agreement that opens beef trade to both nations, the U.S. gave approval for Brazil to send chilled and frozen beef, while Brazil announced it would allow U.S. beef for the first time since the BSE outbreak of 2003.

It’s worth noting Brazil already sends processed beef to the U.S. But with the USDA’s Food Inspection Safety Service (FSIS) opening up our borders to chilled and frozen beef, a whole new ball game kicked off between the two countries, and American beef producers don’t like it.

The issue isn’t about a flood of Brazilian beef coming into the country. Ag economists agree this is a minimal amount of beef when compared to larger export partners. Brazil’s volume is categorized under a smaller tariff quota for a group of smaller nations.

The problem rests with concerns over foot-and-mouth disease. FMD is one of the most difficult diseases to control from a biosecurity standpoint. Not only is it an infectious viral disease among animals, with pathogens that can be carried in the air, but FMD can also survive in milk and in meat, even when chilled properly after slaughter. When it hit the U.K. in 2001, it wiped out 10 million head of livestock.

There’s something to be said about why the U.S. hasn’t seen any FMD cases since 1929. Our disease prevention programs have been comprehensive and disciplined, and vigilance by authorities and beef producers has been a key in helping us eradicate FMD from our beef supply.

Now those firewalls are expendable against a tide of politics. While removing trade barriers is a worthy goal, scientific certainty against risk is just as critical. FMD remnants are small in South America, but they are there. Will the FSIS inspection routes be as rigorous in Brazil as the U.S. standards?

Producers are especially curious why the USDA didn’t wait for the Government Accountability Office report reviewing methods used by the USDA to examine the regulatory process in Brazil. Not exactly the type of move you’d expect from the self-proclaimed “most transparent” administration in history.

Let’s pose a frightening yet realistic question: What happens to U.S. beef if an FMD case appears in the U.S.? Can we trace the source of sick or tainted beef? If it’s from another international source – as it was in 2003 with BSE – which nation will pay the price?

It took 10 years for U.S. beef to recover from BSE. An FMD scare will be much worse. It’s practical for skepticism to remain on this decision.  end mark

David Cooper
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