Twenty-five farm, ranch, manufacturing, labor, and consumer groups sent a joint letter to 11 members of Congress this week to urge them to introduce and pass new legislation that would strengthen the United States’ protections against the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The 11 targeted congressional members included both House and Senate members who previously sponsored the Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act of 2009, a bill that would have prohibited the Agriculture Secretary from allowing imports of fresh or chilled beef or pork from Argentina unless the Secretary first certified to Congress that every region within Argentina was free of FMD without vaccination.

“We respectfully request that you introduce new legislation similar to the 2009 Act that would expand the list of countries subject to the 2009 Act to include Brazil and any other country that has not been certified to Congress by the Secretary of Agriculture as a country in which every region within is free of FMD – without vaccination,” the letter states. “We believe such legislative action is necessary to prevent USDA from creating a dangerous precedent that would unnecessarily expose the U.S. to a heightened risk for disease introduction.”

The group informed Congress that congressional action was needed to pre-empt the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing its April 16 proposed rule that would lift FMD restrictions for the Brazilian State of Santa Catarina and allow the importation of fresh and chilled beef and pork from that state, even while USDA considers all of Brazil to be a country affected with FMD. The group stated that it is imperative “that Congress take quick and decisive action by introducing legislation to prevent USDA from irresponsibly exposing U.S. livestock to an increased risk of FMD introduction from Brazil and from other FMD-affected countries.”

In support of their congressional request, the group members provided evidence to show that USDA’s proposed FMD rule unequivocally demonstrates an unscientific bias in favor of Brazil. The letter explains the contradiction in the rule in which USDA refused to acknowledge an ongoing outbreak of FMD in Brazil in 2006, even though both Brazil and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) acknowledged that Brazil met the official standards for determining an FMD outbreak during that year.

In addition, the group provides evidence to show that USDA has had a 100 percent failure rate during its previous efforts to lift FMD restrictions for specific regions within countries that were otherwise eligible to export beef to the U.S. and also affected with FMD. The groups said that USDA’s previous, failed efforts to regionalize Uruguay and Argentina demonstrate that the “ideological concept of regionalization as a tool to facilitate trade before countries have completely eradicated pernicious diseases like FMD is fundamentally flawed, inherently risky, and incapable of preventing the introduction of diseases into the United States.”

Also, the group provides evidence of USDA’s failure to anticipate widespread FMD outbreaks in the Republic of South Africa and South Korea to substantiate its assertion that USDA is incapable of accurately evaluating FMD risks in countries with histories of FMD outbreaks and incapable of accurately predicting when FMD outbreaks would recur in those countries.

“Given the overwhelming failure of USDA’s persistent efforts to lift essential FMD restrictions, the United States is indeed fortunate that USDA’s actions have not already resulted in the introduction of FMD. . . The risk posed by USDA’s ongoing actions is great, and the threat of FMD is very real,” the group’s letter concludes.

National organizations that signed on to the letter include: the American Grassfed Association; the BueLingo Beef Cattle Society; Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA); International Texas Longhorn Association; Food & Water Watch; National Association of Farm Animal Welfare; National Farmers Organization (NFO); Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM); R-CALF USA; Texas Longhorn Marketing Alliance; and, the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC).

State, regional and county organizations that signed on to the letter include: Cattle Producers of Washington; Citizens for Private Property Rights; Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association; Independent Beef Producers of North Dakota (I-BAND); Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska; Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming; Kansas Cattlemen’s Association; Mississippi Livestock Markets Association; Missouri’s Best Beef Co-Operative; Nevada Live Stock Association; Oregon Livestock Producers Association; Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; South Dakota Livestock Markets Association; and, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.