The extended public comment period on a USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service proposal to allow the importation of fresh beef from some Brazilian states closed on Tuesday after stakeholders left nearly 600 comments for APHIS' review.
Many groups representing beef interests say the risk of importing beef from Brazil is still too great, as the country has not yet eradicated foot-and-mouth disease.
In comments earlier this year on the proposal, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Collin Woodall said FMD is a huge risk to beef producers, and the new proposal also has an impact on the United States' relationship with trading partners.
"Our concerns are really all about the willingness, the commitment, the resources and the infrastructure that Brazil is willing to put in too make sure that all of the protocols for regionalization in trade in a country that has FMD can be met in order to protect the United States," he said in comments Feb. 25.
The National Farmers Union, in comments submitted on the proposal April 22, said his group has concerns regarding consumer confidence in beef products.
"As we've seen in the past, consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply is easily jeopardized by even rumored threats," Johnson said. "NFU's family farmer- and rancher-driven policy is clear on this issue: livestock, animal protein products and meat imports from countries with a history of FMD and other infectious livestock diseases put the entire U.S. livestock industry at risk due to the very real possibility of transmission of FMD to U.S. livestock.
"APHIS must maintain the current ban on importation of fresh beef from Brazil," he said.
According to Johnson, economic risks are also apparent: a 2002 study, he said, found that if an epidemic similar to the outbreak that occurred in the U.K. in 2001 were to strike the U.S., a loss of $14 billion in U.S. farm income (in 2002 dollars) would result.
This includes costs of quarantine and eradication of animals, a ban on exports, and reduced consumer confidence.
"U.S. farmers and ranchers are known throughout the world for our long-standing disease prevention efforts and high food safety standards. USDA must not endanger this reputation, or consumers' safety, for the sake of cheap imported food," Johnson said.
The comment period, originally scheduled to end February 21, was extended 60 days to April 22 after several groups pressed APHIS for additional time to comment.
As of April 22 at midday, 573 comments were submitted digitally via the Federal Register. The proposal is docket number APHIS-2009-0017.