In evaluating USDA's Proposed Rule to import beef from Brazil, it is important to keep certain principles and factors in mind. I favor free trade. I favor scientific evidence in facilitating that trade, and I oppose catastrophic risk.
There is another psychological effect. That is the damage done by the BSE episode, which even now, more than a decade later, limits our access to world markets, colors our trade relations with other nations and took hundreds of millions of dollars out of the nation’s beef production chain. No one’s ever offered a refund.
All of that said, evaluating the proposed rule has seemed somewhat disconcerting, like any time it seemed someone should pop up and yell, “April Fool! We’re just kidding!” or, given the hard lessons taught to us by this administration – some whistleblower explaining the real, political motive behind this proposal that no one outside government had deciphered. Yet.
One has to remember this proposal is to import fresh or chilled beef into this country from Brazil, not to import live cattle or the virus. But try as I might, I found it is impossible because of the nature of this particular virus to completely separate the two because this virus can be so contagious. It travels in and on animals, on equipment, wrapping, vehicles and wind currents (30-70 miles) and causes both mortality and severe morbidity, that one can't entirely separate the meat and meat processing from the virus threat.
There is a reason Brazil has a team of professionals that descend at the first reports of this disease and slaughter every cloven-hoofed animal in sight, or more technically, any critter that could have been in contact with the stricken ones. It is a serious problem for the producer involved, for the surrounding countryside, the nation and surrounding nations. For a country with export customers, it is a bomb.
One factor getting minimal attention is the frightening prospect of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in North American wildlife. How could we become free of this virus ever again should our continent’s deer and elk population become infected with FMD? Hogs produce copious amounts of aerosol virus. Can you imagine FMD raging through the hordes of wild hogs roaming through the southern United States?
What we learned about applying science to trade under the threat of BSE only underlines the differences in this case. BSE is not a contagious disease, has a limited source of infection (feed contaminated with certain tissues) and has limited geographic scope compared to FMD. While all the science we would have preferred wasn’t available then, there was a considerable body of evidence. Most folks weren't aware of it because it wasn't necessary.
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