In comments submitted to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Monday, the National Farmers Union said it opposes the agency's proposal regarding beef imports from Northern Argentina and Uruguay on ongoing concerns with Foot-and-Mouth Disease.
FMD is a highly contagious disease that NFU said could devastate family farmers and ranchers in the U.S.
"Livestock health is critical to production agriculture and our nation's ability to provide a safe food supply," NFU President Roger Johnson said in the comments. "Achieving the necessary means to ensure livestock health is a priority for NFU."
Johnson noted that NFU supports banning livestock, animal protein products, and meat imports that would jeopardize U.S. efforts to eradicate livestock diseases, including FMD, and that allowing imports of beef from Northern Argentina could potentially conflict with these efforts.
"APHIS acknowledges that Northern Argentina is not considered to be free of FMD," Johnson said.
According to Johnson, in May of 2000, the World Organization for Animal Health designated Argentina as FMD-free without vaccination. FMD outbreaks reappeared two months later, culminating in the epidemic outbreak in 2001.
"Since then, Argentina has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to eradicate and control FMD, and concealed the outbreaks from the international community for months," Johnson said.
He also noted that in addition to health safety risks, serious economic repercussions could result from an outbreak of FMD in the U.S.
"The economic impacts of an FMD outbreak in the U.S. would be tremendous," Johnson said. "FMD is highly contagious and has the potential to spread very quickly. Given the rapidity with which FMD spreads, an outbreak would create devastating economic consequences for farmers and ranchers. Recent research has estimated outbreaks in FMD-free countries and zones cause losses of greater than $1.5 billion per year."
Johnson also noted that in 2001, an outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom resulted in the slaughter or burn of nearly 3 million animals. The epidemic was costly both to farmers and the economy; total losses to agriculture and the food chain amounting to roughly £3.1 billion.
"Prior to the 2001 outbreak, the UK had gone 34 years without an outbreak," said Johnson. "This particular example demonstrates that no country is immune to the devastating impacts of a FMD outbreak, and the utmost precaution should be taken when evaluating changes in import status from countries with a recent history of FMD.
"U.S. farmers and ranchers are known throughout the world for the high standards to which their livestock herds are raised. Our long-standing disease prevention efforts have thus far been successful."