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A crisis of trust in government makes trade decisions difficult

Recent news regarding U.S./Brazil trade negotiations over cotton, which could open the U.S. market to limited exports of Brazilian beef products, was seismic for the U.S. beef industry.

Only thermally treated (cooked) beef from Brazil is currently eligible for export into the U.S. due to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) restrictions. But, as part of the cotton agreement, USDA would allow fresh beef from the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, the only state declared by World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) standards to be free of FMD (no vaccination required). The move wouldn't significantly impact beef imports from Brazil, but could impact pork imports.

At first blush, this appears to be a no-brainer. After being abused by other countries for years over BSE, the U.S. has pushed hard for implementation of science-based protocols. It's hard to argue for science-based standards only when the trade benefits us. Under such a trade agreement with Brazil, the U.S. government would still be in charge of conducting the risk assessment and isn't obligated to do anything that isn't scientifically justifiable.

But, while the U.S. may have the capabilities to ensure that all protocols are followed, two big questions are whether our government is committed to doing so and whether the political motivations exist to adhere to sound science.

Simply put, people rightly question if government has the capability of true unbiased scientific analysis. The U.S. government began conducting this risk analysis long before the cotton agreement, but it's also widely understood that opening U.S. access has been, in part, politically motivated. After all, it was part of an agreement over a longstanding cotton dispute.

In addition to political concerns, there also are the concerns over science in general, or at least science conducted in today's politically charged environment.

Science for my generation and generations before us was regarded as noble and pure; as a result, it was worthy of almost blind faith. But, today, it's become something quite different. Science is now often a tool to help justify an agenda and often used to mislead rather than enlighten. The cases of manufactured science to bolster climate change arguments attest to this.

The issue is one of trust. Most of us understand that fair trade is vital to our industry and that it should be based on sound scientific protocols. However, many of us have legitimate doubts about the integrity of the science and the ability and resolve of governments to enforce and live up to the agreements they make. And, those doubts aren't totally unjustified.

Troy Marshall is a seedstock producer and contributing editor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, an electronic newsletter distributed every Friday afternoon. Sign up for a free subscription at

TAGS: Legislative