Cattle industry concerned about USDA’s approval of Brazilian beef plants
Open mouth, insert foot.
Large animal veterinarian Dr. Ed Hamer said that the U.S. importing fresh beef from Brazil is “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
The southern California large animal veterinarian believes the USDA announcement on Aug. 1, 2016, that the Food Safety and Inspection Service approved Brazil to ship fresh beef to the U.S. will put the domestic livestock herd at risk of contracting the highly contagious Foot and Mouth Disease. FMD can infect any cloven-footed animal and while animals usually survive the disease, their productivity is usually greatly diminished. Mitigation plans often call for euthanizing of all wild and domestic cloven-footed animals within a particular radius and even burning porous materials like wooden corrals or barns on affected locations.
“…FSIS also recently determined that Brazil’s food safety system governing meat products remains equivalent to that of the United States and that fresh (chilled or frozen) beef can be safely imported from Brazil. Following a multi-year science based review consistent with U.S. food safety regulations for countries that export meat, poultry and egg products to the U.S., FSIS is amending the list of eligible countries and products authorized for export to the United States to allow fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Brazil,” said the USDA news release.
The news makes Dr. Hamer squirm.
While federally inspected U.S. meat plants must keep an inspector on site every processing day, and conduct multiple disease tests, Dr. Hamer doesn’t believe Brazilian plants will follow such strict protocol.
“You are dealing with apples and oranges. Brazil is a third world country. If there isn’t a [USDA] inspector standing there, they aren’t held to the same standard (as U.S. producers and processors).”
While the bulk of his business is horses, the Los Olivos, California, veterinarian works on cattle occasionally, and grew up on a Nevada cattle ranch.
“The beef industry is important to me and my family,” he explained.
And subjecting the industry to unnecessary exposure to meat that could be tainted with the Foot and Mouth Disease is “asinine,” says Dr. Hamer.
The last FMD outbreak on U.S. soil took place in California in 1929. Pigs ate garbage offloaded by a cruise ship that that stopped on the coast. Something in the garbage contained the FMD virus, which infected the pigs.
California state veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones said foreign garbage is now “highly regulated” and must follow protocol including heat treatment before being left on U.S. soil. She said California now maintains strong disease prevention protocol, which should keep her her state’s ag industry as safe as any other.
“We are one of the very few states that continues to invest in state border stations that are part of our multi-layered approach to protect agriculture. We have a diagnostic laboratory system with four facilities strategically located in the State that is one of the best in the nation and the world, and is poised to immediately test thousands of samples in order to let us know where disease is as well as where it is not.”
While she does fear FMD introduction, Dr. Jones doesn’t think Brazilian beef is the mostly likely vector for the disease. “I worry much more about illegal product movement with travelers or intentional introduction of the virus.”
South Dakota state veterinarian Dr. Dustin Oedekoven agrees. “International travel, and the number of people in the air moving from all over the globe, is astounding. The traveling public (especially to areas that have active FMD infection) and imported products that are not inspected with respect to potential ag threats are my biggest concerns for the introduction of FMD in the U.S.” Oedekoven added that Rio, Brazil is recognized as FMD free so the risk of an olympian or attendee bringing the disease back to the U.S. is no greater than if the Olympics were held elsewhere.
In order to foster good global trade relations, Dr. Jones believes science-based trade protocols should be followed in all cases, so that, for example, if the U.S. were affected by FMD, exports of unaffected products would still continue.
“I understand the potential devastation caused by FMD, but feel we should not contribute to the ‘manufactured devastation’ created by fear and market closures, rather than science-based disease control measures.”
But capitol hill is more worried about the viability of the domestic livestock industry.
Senator John Tester (D-MT) agrees about the devastating affects of FMD.
In a letter sent to USDA on Aug. 5, Tester asks USDA several questions. “Without further information and assurances, I remain skeptical of this decision. In order to increase transparency and consumer confidence in this process, I respectfully request answers to the following questions:
· What steps has USDA taken to implement the recommendations the Government Accountability Office made for improving the emergency response to an animal disease outbreak?
· What steps did the FSIS take to ensure the Brazilian facilities are equivalent in nature to American facilities?
· What process will be in place to verify ongoing compliance?
· Is FSIS considering using third party verification?
· What processes will be implemented to track the movement Brazilian beef imports once they enter the US market?
· How will USDA make sure retailers are able to access the necessary information to voluntarily label beef products’ country of origin?”
Senator John Thune (R-SD) said cattle producers in his state have contacted him with concerns about imports of Brazilian meat. “USDA needs to assure me and our nation’s cattle producers that our livestock and food supply will not be jeopardized by an influx of Brazilian beef imports,” he said.
Dr. Oedekoven said his state’s Animal Industry Board opposed USDA’s 2014 proposal to allow fresh Brazilian beef imports because of FMD concerns, but that the region of Brazil that is approved for export is “FMD free with vaccination.” So, he says, “this isn’t a cause for panic.”
Dr. Oedekoven would prefer to see the U.S. maintain its historical protocol of only accepting beef from countries that are FMD free without vaccination but he realizes that trade policies are becoming more liberal and understands that policy requires that beef shipments will be halted if FMD is detected.
“It is highly unlikely, in my opinion, that if each step of the protocol is followed and enforced, that live FMD virus would be transported in fresh or frozen beef from a region recognized as ‘FMD free with vaccination’ and that the virus would then somehow come into contact with US livestock,” said Dr. Oedekoven. He emphasized, “if each step of the protocol is followed and enforced.”
But R-CALF USA president Bryan Hanson says therein lies the problem.
“It took Brazil two years to notify us that they had a positive BSE case. That shows me that what they say they are going to do and what they are actually going to do are not the same,” said Hanson, the owner of Ft. Pierre Livestock Auction of central South Dakota.
Another of Hanson’s biggest concerns is movement of cattle in South America. Cattle from regions and countries that are not approved for export may find their way to the approved plants, he said. “Let’s say calves are worth $3 per pound in North Dakota and only 40 cents per pound in South Dakota. The South Dakota producers are going to find a way to get their calves to a North Dakota market.”
Hanson also said that the FMD vaccine used regularly in Brazil can produce a false positive in an FMD test, making health assessment difficult.
Leo McDonnell, Director Emeritus, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, is worried about compliance and integrity in regard to Brazil’s meat packing industry. “USDA’s announcement falls in line with the number of obligations currently directed by agreements within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to the US. The problem is that too often Brazil adheres to a ‘do as I say- not as I do’ type of policy. Brazil has a lengthy history of WTO violations that continue to undercut all sectors of U.S. production agriculture. Despite this, Brazil is the first to leverage the WTO when it works in their favor. Senator Tester’s letter and ongoing efforts to combat such abuses ensures that both U.S. cattle producers will not be run roughshod over by a country that continues to fail on every level in living up to international commitments,” said McDonnell.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Tracy Brunner, a Kansas cattle feeder said his group is still awaiting a Government Accountability Office investigation into FSIS’s methodology used in determing that Brazil’s meat plants are safe.
Additionally NCBA calls for the production of large amounts of FMD vaccine.
“Most importantly, we need the U.S. government to take the proper precaution and ensure a robust Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine bank. We cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s livestock herds, which are the foundation of our global food supply…” he said.
“The safety of the U.S. domestic herd remains at stake given Brazil’s ongoing FMD problem and continued bad-acts within the international trade community,” said USCA president Danni Beer in a news release.
“Foot and mouth disease would be absolutely devastating to California,” said Dr. Jones, who said California is better prepared for a disease outbreak than many states. “While we rank high in beef and sheep production, we are by far the number one supplier of dairy products in the nation, supplying about 22 percent of the nation’s milk. Like all states, our dairy industry is remarkably efficient with specialty facilities ensuring optimal care for each stage in life. But that means large concentrations of animals and millions of animal movements. It also means that an introduction of a highly contagious virus like FMD into our dairy shed areas would impact millions of cattle quickly. I always carry this knowledge with me. It is what motivates me to push our staff, our industry and our legislature to stay optimally engaged and prepared.
Hanson said that a cloven footed animal would have to ingest FMD-carrying meat in order for the imported meat to infect a U.S. animal. The most likely scenario would be infected meat being fed to pigs, he said. But the affects of one sick hog would be catastrophic.
“Even if one got gets it, the protocol is the same – it shuts down commerce and all of the sudden we are an FMD country,” he said. Exports would likely be restricted, along with movement of any number of products in the United States.
Aside from the disease concerns, opening U.S. borders to a country with huge cattle numbers is unwise for the U.S. cattle market, said Hamer.
“FMD is a huge concern but so are other things like hormones, trace minerals, high levels of antibiotics,” he said.
Hamer pointed out that Brazilian meat is likely to show up in fast food joints, hot dogs and other inexpensive meat sources. “Any sane person realizes when you outsource food to a third world country, it affects the people looking for a cheap way to feed the family. It’s not like all of us can afford to go to ‘Whole Foods’ and buy certified grass-fed beef.”
South Dakota Stockgrowers Vice-President Gary Deering also worries about the U.S. consumer. “This is exactly why we fought so hard for Country of Origin Labeling. As ranchers, we’ve worked hard to build up a strong reputation for safe and affordable U.S. beef. I just can’t understand how USDA FSIS thinks that importing beef from Brazil makes any sense or provides any benefit to the United States’ producers or consumers.”
According to USDA FSIS, annual imports of fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Brazil will likely range between 20,000 and 65,000 metric tons (MT), with annual volumes averaging 40,000 MT, said the SDSGA news release.
“We’ve spent generations putting this strong cattle industry together and it will take 10 years to completely dismantle it,” Hamer said. “We don’t have a shortage of beef here. We are feeding everyone just fine. We’ve got 100 million people out of work and we are outsourcing jobs that we should be doing here.”
“This is a bureaucratic bunch of bull shit.”