Move to block Argentine beef imports | TSLN.com

Move to block Argentine beef imports

Adam Templeton, DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) – The fear of foot and mouth disease continues to make U.S. ranchers wary of importing livestock products from Argentina.

Now, the U.S. Cattleman’s Association is applauding a new bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday that would help prevent those imports.

Called the Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act of 2008, the bill would prevent any Argentine beef and live cattle from making their way stateside.

The USDA has proposed allowing regions of Argentina declared to be FMD-free to export fresh and prepackaged beef, lamb and other meats. But the USCA argues cherry-picking sections of a country where a contagious, airborne disease still exists is irresponsible and could lower import standards.

“Regionalized beef trade with Argentina will set a precedent and lower our import standards making us vulnerable to the introduction of FMD,” said Jon Wooster, a California rancher and USCA President in a news release about the new bill.

Since its last outbreak of the disease in 2006, Argentina has struggled to suppress other instances of FMD.

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Although the regions USDA is considering allowing to trade with the U.S. are FMD-free, many livestock producing parts of the country continue to combat the disease. The USCA has stressed the risk simply isn’t worth it and supports a total embargo on Argentine beef.

“It seems like nearly everybody in farm country is lining up behind this bill,” said Leo McDonnell, USCA Director Emeritus, in a conference call with reporters. “I’ll just say it straight forward – Argentina has FMD and America doesn’t.”

McDonnell called FMD the “biggest risk to American ranchers” because a single instance of the disease could “spread like wildfire across the U.S.”

Should an outbreak occur, foreign markets would likely block U.S. beef imports, and potentially infected animals would have to be destroyed. Both scenarios would cause a substantial loss to cattle producers. For example, an outbreak could cost Kansas alone $1 billion dollars, according to a recent study by Kansas State University.

The USDA’s regionalized proposal is flawed for a number of reasons, McDonnell said. First, FMD isn’t likely to simply stop and turn around once it reaches the U.S. border. Secondly, the proposal assumes Argentina will work in the U.S.’s best interest.

“Let’s not forget this is a country that has sided against us and our farm policies at every turn in the World Trade Organization,” McDonnell said.

Other organizations, such as American Task Force Argentina, have questioned Argentina’s stability as a trading partner.

In 2001, Argentina defaulted on more than $80 billion in debt, the largest sovereign default in history. ATFA was created in 2006 to address concerns about how Argentina handled the default.

“Argentina has proven to be a bad financial actor in a variety of areas,” said Robert Raben, ATFA executive director. “They repudiated their debt. And they’ve failed to prove their exports free of FMD.”

And allowing questionable products into the country would create an “uneven playing field for America’s farmers and ranchers,” he added.

The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act of 2008 was introduced by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-SD, and Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-WY. The bill’s Senate counterpart, introduced last Thursday, was sponsored by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD.

Adam Templeton can be reached at adam.templeton@dtn.com