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Opinion: Industry Buzzes Over U.S./Brazil Cotton Deal

News regarding U.S./Brazil trade negotiations over cotton that would open the U.S. market to limited exports of Brazilian beef and beef products was big this week.

News regarding U.S./Brazil trade negotiations over cotton that would open the U.S. market to limited exports of Brazilian beef and beef products was big this week.

Only thermally treated (cooked) beef from Brazil is currently eligible for export into the U.S. due to concerns over foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). But, as part of the cotton agreement, USDA was to publish a rule on April 16 that would allow fresh product to be imported from the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, the only state in Brazil declared by OIE standards to be free of FMD (no vaccination required). The move isn’t expected to have any significant impact on 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 argued long and hard for the implementation of science-based protocols. And it’s hard to argue for science-based standards when the trade benefits us, and against those same standards when it doesn’t. 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.

Unfortunately, the issue isn’t nearly so clear cut in practice. Of course, there’s no need to discuss the objections of those who believe only in one-way trade for the U.S., which has obvious flaws in logic and real-world application. From an intellectually honest standpoint, those who simply oppose any form of beef trade have some credence; it might be bad economics, but there’s no double standard to wrestle with.

The concerns over Brazilian beef imports have little to do with the regionalization concept, either. If enforced, it’s a scientifically valid approach. The problem is in implementation – will the protocols be followed and can we count on our government to make sure they are?

Unquestionably, we have the capabilities to do so, and foreign countries in their own best interest want to make sure all protocols are followed. The question is whether the U.S. government is committed to doing so, and whether political motivations exist that would prevent us from adhering to sound science.

Simply put, people rightly question whether governments have 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 between the U.S. and Brazil over their longstanding fight over cotton.

In addition to political concerns that, if nothing else, give the appearance of a quid-pro-quo situation, are the concerns over science in general, or at least concerns about science conducted in today’s politically charged environment. For example, the more we learn about the “undisputed” science behind the global-warming movement, the more obvious it’s become that not only is the science questionable in many cases, but fabricated in some cases was to suit the desired agenda.

We’ve also seen the economic analysis behind the health-care debate, which was simply nonsensical. Even the most casual observer understands that insuring an additional 30 million people will increase costs. As such, Congressional Budget Office budget estimates aren’t wrong per se, they were simply required to analyze non real-world scenarios.

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, science and economics have become something quite different. Science is now often a tool to help justify an agenda and, more times than not, is used to mislead rather than enlighten.

The problem today isn’t with good science; it’s a crisis 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.