The following opinion editorial appeared first in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's weekly Beltway Beef newsletter at www.beefusa.org.
As a Member of Congress who sits on the House Committee on Agriculture, it is a priority of mine to support legislation that is in the best interest of the American farmer and rancher. When they are strong, America is strong.
Our farmers and ranchers produce the safest and highest quality food in the world. With this in mind, I support and have advocated for open markets and fair trade so they may be able to sell their products around the globe. It is important to me that the United States does all it can to raise demand for our agricultural products. It is good for our farmers, ranchers and our entire economy. This fiscal year alone, US agricultural exports added $131 billion to our nation's gross domestic product. Additionally, this same sector supports millions of domestic jobs, jobs that are rooted in rural America.
However, as a large animal veterinarian for the past 30 years, I realize open markets and trade come with risks to our domestic food supply, specifically with the importation of beef from other countries with the potential to spread contagious diseases like Rinderpest and Foot-and-Mouth Disease. FMD is highly contagious and can spread rapidly among livestock. The speed at which it can infect a herd makes it the most economically devastating livestock disease in the world.
Recently, I, along with other members of Congress, sent a letter to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Administrator Kevin Shea. The letter requests that the agency halt the implementation of their proposed rule from December 2013 until further review. This proposed rule allows for the importation of fresh and frozen beef from regions in Brazil. Our request would place a temporary halt of importation until there is a review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the methodology of the APHIS site visits to Brazil takes place.
I feel this is a necessary request considering the Food Safety Inspection Service audit, which was released in April, found substantial flaws related to Brazil's food safety regulation requirements and the last documented case of FMD in Brazil was in 2006. Without certainty that Brazil will comply with all health regulations to stave off the risk of FMD, importation of beef from these regions carry a significant risk.
The American economy, agricultural sector, and specifically ranchers, have too much at risk to allow beef imported from Brazil - with the possibility of FMD - without further safe guards. With agricultural exports estimated to be roughly $150 billion by year's end, any hint of this disease being introduced would immediately stop our beef exports to other nations. This amounts to a loss of revenue upwards of billions of dollars. This economic impact to the US economy would be devastating.
Currently the US is short roughly one million head of cattle. An outbreak of FMD would most surely involve quarantine and the slaughter of livestock that would further decrease the already short supply of American beef. Research suggests that countries free from FMD that suffer an outbreak lose between 0.3-0.6% of their gross domestic product. We cannot afford for this to happen.
As a Congressman, veterinarian, and American, I am proud of the quality of food produced by our American farmers and ranchers. I am also concerned about the health of our nation's food supply and the well-being of those who put food on our table everyday. Until a timely, independent study can be conducted on the methodology and management controls of the APHIS site visits - to the exporting country - to verify the animal health data, we should not risk our nation's food supply and economic health.