Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester is joining forces with Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota to introduce legislation blocking the Biden administration from allowing beef imports that he says could contain a disease impacting U.S. food supplies.
Tester and Rounds announced late Tuesday that they would introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution that would overturn the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lift a long-standing ban on beef imports from Paraguay. The USDA is expected to implement the decision as soon as Thursday over opposition from Tester, Rounds and U.S. livestock industry groups which have pointed to the South American nation’s history of cattle disease.
“The Biden Administration has this one backwards — resuming beef imports from a country with a recent history of foot and mouth disease is bad news for both Montana consumers and producers,” Tester said in a statement Tuesday.
“Montana ranchers work hard to produce the best quality beef in the world, and it’s clear that the USDA doesn’t have the data to show that Paraguay meets the same animal health standards,” the Montana senator continued. “I’m willing to take this fight to the Senate floor because it’s clear that bureaucrats in Washington are endangering our food supply while giving a raw deal to American ranchers and consumers.”
Rounds added that Americans should be able to “confidently feed their families beef that has met the rigorous standards” required in America.
In November, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) finalized regulations to allow Paraguayan beef imports and issued a series of conditions importers must meet to ensure livestock diseases aren’t present in shipped products. Paraguay’s livestock industry has a history of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which spreads quickly among livestock and could severely threaten the U.S. economy.
According to a readout of a September meeting between the Paraguayan government and the White House Office of the United States Trade Representative, the two sides discussed the process to authorize the import of raw beef products and Paraguayan officials expressed their desire to resume raw beef product trade “as soon as possible.”
In addition, Paraguayan cattle industry associations and government agencies including the Embassy of Paraguay to the United States submitted comments in May in response to the proposed version of the regulations finalized last month. The comments similarly urged the USDA to immediately allow beef imports.
“The exportation of Paraguayan beef to the United States will benefit both Paraguayan and American business and consumers with increased choices for premium beef products,” the Embassy of Paraguay wrote in its filing.
“The Government of Paraguay is committed to working closely with U.S. authorities to ensure that all food safety and quality regulations are met, and we are confident that Paraguayan beef will be a big success in the U.S. market.”
However, the same federal rulemaking process garnered substantial negative feedback from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), regional affiliates of the group, the United States Cattlemen’s Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which all argued the action could lead to a FMD outbreak in the U.S. — which has been free of the disease since 1929 — causing massive economic damage.
“USDA based their decision to allow beef imports from Paraguay on a deeply flawed risk assessment that uses old data from site visits that were conducted more than nine years ago,” Kent Bacus, the executive director of government affairs for the NCBA, the largest industry group representing U.S. cattle producers, said last month.
“Paraguay has a history of FMD outbreaks, and it is unclear if their inspection system can provide an equivalent level of safety for animal health to prevent a possible FMD outbreak on U.S. soil,” he continued. “Paraguay heavily relies on private sector funding for most of its FMD mitigation measures, and USDA did not consider the risk associated with Paraguay’s economic downturn over the last several years.”