R-CALF USA is circulating a coalition sign-on letter to consumer organizations, farm and cattle organizations, and other groups to urge Congress to introduce and pass new legislation that will protect domestic livestock and U.S. citizens from the introduction of the dangerous foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus. Earlier this month, 32 organizations sent a joint letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge him to immediately abandon plans to import fresh beef from Brazil, plans that would allow Brazil to export beef to the U.S. even before it has demonstrated it is free of FMD. On April 16, 2010 – and despite the groups’ urgent request – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a rule in the Federal Register to lift FMD restrictions currently imposed on the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

The coalition sign-on letter states: “To put the severity of this matter in perspective, if the State of South Dakota, e.g. (for example), were required to destroy as many cattle as were destroyed in Brazil during its 2005-2006 FMD outbreak (84,676 head), it would wipe out the herds of more than 760 South Dakota ranchers, based on South Dakota’s average cattle herd size of about 111 head.”

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said the informal coalition will not only send its request to Congress, but also, it will work collaboratively to overturn USDA’s proposed rule to lift FMD restrictions for Brazil and pass legislation in Congress to provide meaningful, long-term protection against the introduction of FMD. Organizations that desire to join the coalition sign-on letter can contact R-CALF USA at 406/252-2516.

The coalition sign-on letter requests the 11 congressional cosponsors of 2009 legislation titled “The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act of 2009” to introduce new legislation similar to the 2009 Act that would expand the list of countries where USDA could not prematurely lift FMD restrictions to include Brazil, as well as 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 2009 Act was brought about by a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who were extremely worried about USDA’s plan to lift FMD restrictions for a region within Argentina. The Senate sponsors for S. 337 included: Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; and, Sen. Kent Conrad, N.D. Two representatives – Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. – introduced H.R. 1226, also titled, “The Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention Act of 2009.”

Although the 2009 Act was never voted on by Congress, USDA later chose to not follow through with its plans to lift FMD restrictions for Argentina. The 2009 Act would have prohibited the importation of any ruminant or swine, or any fresh, chilled or frozen meat or product from ruminants or swine, from Argentina unless USDA first certifies to Congress that every region within Argentina is free of FMD without vaccination.

The new coalition sign-on letter, which is directed at USDA’s plan to lift FMD restrictions for Brazil, states this coalition is convinced that Congress’ action had a positive effect on USDA’s decision to not proceed with its plans to lift FMD restrictions for Argentina, and further provides numerous examples that demonstrate USDA is predisposed to finalizing its plans to lift FMD restrictions despite evidence that shows “USDA is engaged in a high-risk and dangerous exercise of granting undeserved deference to the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), making optimistic conclusions when faced with scientific uncertainty, and acting in a reactionary manner following the occurrence of FMD outbreaks rather than exercising precaution to protect U.S. livestock from the introduction of FMD.”