Letter to Senators regarding Foot and Mouth Disease

March 4, 2014

The Honorable John Barrasso
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Tim Johnson
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Mike Enzi
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Jon Tester
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Heidi Heitkamp
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Barrasso, Senator Johnson, Senator Enzi, Senator Tester, and Senator Heitkamp:

We, the undersigned organizations, are grateful that you joined the January 23, 2014 letter requesting U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to extend the comment period on the December 23, 2013 proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Program (APHIS) that would allow the importation of fresh beef from 14 states in Brazil.

As your letter makes clear, it is possible that the proposed rule would result in the importation into the United States of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from fresh beef imports from Brazil. We share your concern regarding the proposed rule and now seek your help in assessing the extent to which USDA may be systematically dismantling disease protection measures critical to protecting U.S. livestock industries from the introduction of FMD and perhaps other foreign animal diseases.

We are concerned that APHIS is disregarding its responsibilities under the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA) that authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to:

“… prohibit or restrict…the importation or entry” of animals and animal products “if the Secretary determines that the prohibition or restriction is necessary to prevent the introduction into or dissemination within the United States of any pest or disease of livestock.”

The implementing regulations for the AHPA make clear that the Secretary has already determined that prohibitions against the importation of certain animal products are necessary to safeguard the United States from the introduction of FMD. In particular, 9 CFR §94.1, states, in part:

“(b) The importation of any ruminant or swine or any fresh (chilled or frozen) meat of any ruminant or swine1 that originates in any region where rinderpest or foot-and-mouth disease exists, as designated in paragraph (a) of this section, or that enters a port in or otherwise transits a region in which rinderpest or foot-and-mouth disease exists, is prohibited:”

As discussed below, we seek your help to accomplish two measures that we believe are necessary to first determine if APHIS is in compliance with the aforementioned AHPA requirement and, second, whether APHIS’ proposed rule would constitute a violation of that statute.

As a first measure we seek your help in calling for an immediate update to the 2003 Final Report for the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001 (PL 107-9). This 2003 Final Report made clear that the more stringent disease protection protocols in place at the outset of the 21st Century were necessary to prevent the introduction of FMD into the United States. APHIS’ newly proposed rule, however, represents a radical and seemingly unjustified departure from those preexisting disease protection protocols. We believe that Congress and the public deserve to know why APHIS no longer considers the protocols contained in the 2003 Final Report to be necessary to prevent an outbreak of FMD in the United States.

As a second measure, and pursuant to the report in the January 2014 edition of the respected dairy publication, The Milkweed, that revealed that data maintained by the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) show that the United States imported approximately 57,000 pounds of fresh lean beef trimmings from China in each of the years 2012 and 2013 – despite the fact that beef imports from China are prohibited under U.S. law because FMD is endemic in China – we seek your help in calling for an immediate investigation to determine if U.S. import controls have been undermined, either deliberately or inadvertently, and, if so, what corrective measures are needed to prevent the introduction of high-risk products from FMD-affected countries.

The USDA responded to The Milkweed’s January 2014 disclosure by modifying its trade data to reflect that the imports previously recorded as arriving from China during 2012 and 2013 are now recorded as having arrived from Uruguay. However, the subsequent February 2014 edition of The Milkweed further discloses that USDA records also show that in 2012 more than 55,000 pounds of frozen pork was imported from Colombia, which, like China, lacks FMD-free status and from which imports of fresh (chilled or frozen) beef or pork is prohibited.

An Update Is Needed to the Final Report for the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001

The Final Report to Congress for the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001 (Final Report) asserted that an “important part of the U.S. safeguarding strategy is to exclude from entry those animals and animal products that pose a risk of FMD . . .” The Final Report cautioned Congress regarding the ease at which FMD could enter the United States by stating, “A single infected animal or one contaminated sausage could carry the virus to American livestock.”

To assuage Congress’ FMD concerns, the Final Report declared that “APHIS has regulations in place to restrict imports of livestock, [] [and] livestock products . . . coming from countries the United States does not recognize as free of FMD . . . .” Also, and of particular concern, is the Final Report’s foreboding discussion regarding countries that have to “resort to vaccination to control an outbreak [of FMD] . . . “(emphasis added). “[V]accinated animals can become carriers without showing signs of the disease,” warns the Final Report, which further concluded that sheep were discovered to be carriers that exhibited limited vesicular signs of FMD during the devastating outbreak that occurred in the United Kingdom in 2001.

It appears that APHIS now plans to eliminate key measures it said were critical to prevent the introduction of FMD into the United States. For example, APHIS’ proposed rule would reverse its prior safeguarding strategy of excluding imports from countries that pose a risk of FMD. Indeed, the proposed rule indicates that Brazil remains at risk for an outbreak of FMD “as long as FMD is endemic in the overall region in South America.” But, the risk is even more acute because not only is FMD endemic in other South American regions, it is, in fact, endemic in northern Brazil. Further, APHIS acknowledges the additional risk that “beef destined for the United States could originate from or be commingled with animals or animal products from affected neighboring areas.”

The proposed rule also contravenes the Final Report’s cautionary discussion regarding countries that “resort” to vaccination to control FMD. The 14 Brazilian states that APHIS seeks to certify as eligible to export fresh beef to the U.S. are states that had to “resort” to vaccination to control their outbreaks of FMD. The proposed rule states that “[v]accination of cattle and buffalo is mandatory in the proposed export region.” It further states that the “coverage,” i.e., the percentage of cattle and buffalo actually vaccinated, ranges from 76 to 99.9 percent in the export region. Thus, in addition to the fact that nearly one-quarter of the cattle and buffalo were known not to be vaccinated in one of the 14 Brazilian states included in the proposed rule, APHIS also acknowledges that beef carrying the FMD virus could be exported to the U.S. due to the possibility that undetected FMD-infected cattle might be missed on ante-mortem inspection.

The foregoing discussion reveals that APHIS’ proposed rule represents a radical departure from the tried and true disease protection protocols of the past. It also reveals that APHIS is undertaking this rule change without the benefit of ratification by Congress after APHIS had – just a decade before – given Congress written assurances that it would not knowingly expose the United States cattle and sheep industries to an unnecessary and avoidable risk of introducing FMD into the United States, although this is clearly APHIS’ intent under its proposed rule. The inconsistencies between disclosures by Brazil, reports by APHIS and the findings of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) erode our confidence in the safety of beef imports from countries with a history of FMD presence. Therefore, we urge you to require USDA to suspend consideration of its proposed rule until after it has provided Congress with an update of the 2003 Final Report so Congress can assess whether APHIS is justified in extinguishing the commitments and assurances made to Congress just a decade ago.

An Immediate Investigation Is Needed to Determine if U.S. Import Controls have been Undermined

The disclosure in the January edition of The Milkweed of FAS data indicating that the United States had unlawfully allowed beef to be imported from FMD-affected China during each of the past two calendar years was alarming, and USDA’s recent actions of modifying that data so it now reflects that such imports actually originated in Uruguay, raises additional concerns regarding whether USDA has adequate controls in place to both prevent unlawful imports as well as to report unlawful imports when they occur. The January edition of The Milkweed stated that “[t]he FAS Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS) database reports imports of lean beef trimmings from China totaling 57,134.4 lbs. in 2012 and 57,438.6 lbs. during the first 11 months of 2013.”

In response to The Milkweed’s January disclosure, the USDA issued an erratum on February 11, 2014 stating that it had revised the 2012 and 2013 reports indicating that the United States has unlawfully imported beef from Mainland China and those imports are now attributed to Uruguay. However, as indicated in The Milkweed’s February disclosure:

The FAS trade data also show that the U.S. imported 55,132.60 pounds of pork (“Frozen Meat Of Swine, Other Than Retail Cuts, Nesi” under U.S. tariff code 02032940) from Colombia, another FMD-infested country, during 2012. (Emphasis in the original.)

The potential for FMD to devastate U.S. livestock production is paralleled by a new deadly virus now devastating U.S. hog producers: "PEDV" (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus). PEDV was first identified in the U.S. in April 2013. In less than one year, PEDV has killed several million swine. PEDV is virtually 100% fatal for infected swine weighing less than 40 pounds. PEDV’s DNA traces back to origins in China, according to Wisconsin State Veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw.

We believe an immediate, congressional investigation is warranted to determine if U.S. import controls have been undermined, either deliberately or inadvertently, and, if so, what corrective measures are needed to prevent the introduction of FMD into the United States from FMD-affected countries.

The aforementioned circumstances strongly suggest that, at the very least, the United States needs to begin strengthening, not weakening, its FMD safeguards. Unfortunately, these same aforementioned circumstances strongly suggest that USDA is leading the United States in the opposite direction and may, in fact, be in direct violation of the United States Animal Health Protection Act.

Please let us know how we might assist you in directing the USDA to update its decade-old Final Report for the Animal Disease Risk Assessment, Prevention, and Control Act of 2001 (PL 107-9) and in initiating a congressional investigation into USDA’s reported beef imports from FMD-affected China and Colombia.

Sincerely,

Alabama Contract Poultry Growers
American Agriculture Movement
American Grassfed Association
Buckeye Quality Beef Association (Ohio)
California Farmers Union
Cattle Producers of Louisiana
Cattle Producers of Washington
Center for Food Safety
The CJD Foundation
Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA)
Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association
Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias
Dakota Rural Action
Dewitt County Farm Bureau, TX
Every One At The Table For Health (EAT4HEALTH)
Family Farm Defenders
Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance
Farms Not Arms (California)
Food & Water Watch
Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND)
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
International Texas Longhorn Association
Intertribal Agricultural Council
Kansas Cattlemen's Association
Massey Road Cattle Producers (Iowa)
The Milkweed
Missouri Farmers Union
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Missouri's Best Beef Co-Operative
National Association of Farm Animal Welfare
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farmers Organization
National Farmers Union
National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association
Nebraska Farmers Union
Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics
Nevada Live Stock Association
New England Farmers Union
North Country Sustainability Center, Inc.
Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association
Northern Wisconsin Beef Producers Association
Ohio Farmers Union
Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM)
PCC Natural Markets
Powder River Basin Resource Council
Progressive Agriculture Organization (Pro-Ag)
R-CALF USA
Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural
Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRA Project)
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association
Texas-Mexico Border Coalition
Tri-State Wool Marketing Association
Western Organization of Resource Councils

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