R-CALF USA: USDA’s action to allow raw Brazilian beef imports is reckless
August 1, 2016
Billings, Mont. – "Today's announcement by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stating he is reopening the U.S. market to raw Brazilian beef and Brazil is reopening its market to U.S. beef is a political tit-for-tat that will expose U.S. consumers and the U.S. cattle herd to an unnecessary and avoidable risk of disease," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
Bullard said Vilsack's announcement for the nearly simultaneous market reopenings reads like talking points created by high-paid, multinational meatpacker lobbyists.
Vilsack stated in his announcement: 'The Brazilian market offers excellent long-term potential for U.S. beef exporters. The United States looks forward to providing Brazil's 200-million-plus consumers, and growing middle class, with high-quality American beef and beef products.'
"This is absurd," said Bullard adding, "Brazil produces far more beef than it can consume. This is why, with the world's second largest cattle herd, which far and away dwarfs the size of the U.S. herd, Brazil is the world's third largest beef exporter, behind only India and Australia. And like India and Australia, Brazil's imports of U.S. beef for longer than a decade before it closed its borders to U.S. beef in 2003 were miniscule.
"To say that the Brazilian market affords U.S. cattle producers with economic opportunities would be laughable if not for the significant risk associated with Vilsack's weakening of our longstanding import restrictions for countries like Brazil that continue to battle foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and other dangerous livestock diseases."
Bullard claims that one of the reasons it has taken so long for the USDA to approve raw beef imports from Brazil was because Brazilian cattle and their resulting beef continued to exceed tolerance levels for pesticides such as Ivermectin.
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"Brazil lacks the resources and infrastructure to maintain health and safety standards that are at least equal to that of the United States," said Bullard adding, "That is why the USDA lowered the U.S. standard to that of mere equivalency – which essentially means "close enough."
"This reckless action by the Secretary, which helps multinational meatpackers leverage down U.S. cattle prices with increased imports that do not meet identical U.S. safety standards is yet another in a long line of failures by the USDA to do anything to strengthen the economic condition of the U.S. cattle industry.
"The Secretary capitulated on country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and continues to weaken U.S. import standards that protect our cattle herd and our customers from foreign diseases, including his most recent proposal to relax our import standards for raw beef from Namibia, Africa. He has refused to protect the competitiveness of the U.S. cattle market from antitrust and anticompetitive practices of the monopolistic meatpackers. He has refused to reform the beef checkoff program that funds a lobbying group that represents the economic interests of multinational meatpackers. And, under the Secretary's watch, our industry continues to experience an alarming exodus of cattle farmers and ranchers, feedlot numbers have declined by the tens of thousands, domestic beef production has fallen to the lowest level since before NAFTA, and the U.S. cattle herd shrank to the lowest level in over 70 years.
"Even the Secretary's depiction of exports over the past seven years as they relate to this particular announcement is deceitful at best. While the Secretary boasts that 'the past seven years have represented the strongest period in history for American agricultural exports,' this irresponsible statement purposely omits the fact that while the dollar value of beef and cattle exports did increase over the past seven years, they were decisively overwhelmed by record imports, which caused the trade deficit for our industry to grow from less than $1 billion in 2009 to more than $2.5 billion in 2015.
"We couldn't be more disappointed in the Secretary's actions, which clearly demonstrate that he is advocating the interests of multinational meatpackers at the expense of independent U.S. farmers and ranchers and consumers," concluded Bullard.