To the consternation of many U.S. beef producers, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) says it will pursue the long-anticipated move of allowing fresh (chilled, frozen) beef from Brazil into the U.S. Previously, only thermally processed (cooked) beef from Brazil was allowed into the U.S due to concerns over foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
Following a two-month comment period that ends Feb. 21, APHIS hopes to begin final arrangements for the importation, under certain conditions, of fresh beef from 14 Brazilian states free of FMD . These states include Bahia, Distrito Federal, Espirito Santo, Goias, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Rondonia, Sao Paulo, Sergipe, and Tocantis.
APHIS says it has conducted a risk analysis of the proposed exporting region regarding the status of FMD. The analysis found that "Brazil has the infrastructure and emergency response capabilities adequate to effectively contain FMD in the event of an outbreak, as well as meet all other import requirements.”
In a regulatory impact analysis published in April 2013, USDA estimated that annual imports of fresh beef from Brazil would average about 40,000 metric tons (MT) annually, about two-thirds of which would displace beef that would otherwise be imported from other countries. APHIS says those 40,000 MT of beef from Brazil would increase total U.S. beef imports by less than 1%, and would drop the wholesale price of beef, the retail price of beef, and the price of cattle (steers) in the U.S. by 0.11%, 0.04%, and 0.14%, respectively.
While USDA estimates that annual volume from Brazil  could range from 20,000 to 60,000 MT, just how much beef would head north is one question. Steve Meyer and Len Steiner of the CME Group point out that USDA published a similar notice in the Federal Register on Jan. 5, 2007, pertaining to beef imports from the Patagonia South region of Argentina.
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“It was the first time that USDA had considered approving beef imports from a region of a country that had FMD. Six years later, we have yet to see any beef enter the U.S. from that region,” Steve Meyer and Len Steiner report in their Dec. 31 edition of Daily Livestock Newsletter.
Another question among U.S. beef producers is safety. According to an online poll  of beefmagazine.com readers, U.S. beef producers appear to be highly cynical of the plan. A huge majority (84%) of more than 175 poll respondents called it “a risky move,” with most centering their concern on the risk posed to the U.S. industry by Brazil’s long FMD history  and its traditionally porous borders with neighboring FMD areas. Another 13% are okay with the USDA move, saying that it’s part of the responsibility of operating within free trade; and another 3% didn’t know.
Part of engaging in free trade is abiding by trade rules, and the U.S. and Brazil are both committed to “science-based rulemaking,” says a USDA statement. APHIS says the imported beef would be "subject to regulations that would mitigate the risk of FMD introduction, including movement restrictions, inspections, removal of potentially affected parts and a maturation process.”
But the stakes are astronomically high, and there’s no room for error. A U.S. case of the highly virulent FMD virus would devastate the U.S. beef industry overnight. In fact, a recent report from Australia indicated that their industry could lose as much as $50 billion over 10 years if FMD entered their herd, Meyer and Steiner point out.
“There is a wide range of groups that are opposed to the opening of the U.S. market to Brazilian beef, a country that does have FMD but controls it through vaccination . Those groups need to be convinced that the science guiding the USDA analysis is sound,” the duo says.
The public is invited to comment on the proposal until Feb. 21, 2014. Comments can be submitted to the Federal eRulemaking Portal , or sent to: Docket No. APHIS-2009-0017, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.
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