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RMFU Asks USDA Not to Weaken Foot and Mouth Disease Restrictions

In a statement submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, RMFU President Kent Peppler urged the USDA not to relax protections against importation of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). “Our members are concerned that a change in status for Santa Catarina, Brazil, will endanger our domestic meat and dairy supply,” Peppler said. “The change will threaten the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers, the health of livestock and wildlife populations, and the food security of our nation. The economic interests of other countries should not be allowed to trump those of our citizens.” June 15 is the final day for comments on the USDA’s proposal to change the FMD status of Santa Catarina.

FMD is a crippling, often lethal disease that can cross species from any hoofed animal to another. The virus can be transmitted to its victims by humans, by other animals, and even by wind or contact with contaminated objects. An FMD outbreak could cross the entire United States in three days. Any animal that might be infected must be killed and the body destroyed.

The U.S. has not had a case of FMD since 1929. Jeopardizing that record would be criminal folly, according to RMFU. An outbreak in Great Britain, nearly ten years ago, resulted in the slaughter and waste of ten million head of sheep and cattle, as well as untallied indirect economic losses from quarantine. An outbreak of FMD could effectively destroy the U.S. livestock industry, on a scale comparable to the Gulf oil spill’s impact on fisheries.

In his statement, Peppler asked the USDA to “re-consider the disastrous economic impact that FMD can have if introduced in the United States.” The statement asks the USDA to reconsider the risk assessment report from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Santa Catarina shares a 100-mile border with Argentina, which has had outbreaks as recently as a few years ago and is not considered FMD-free. The Brazilian government has made it illegal for slaughterhouses to purchase animals from anyone who cannot demonstrate that their cattle were produced on properly deeded land. Thus, there is a high risk that a black market will develop in Santa Catarina for undocumented cattle from both Brazil and Argentina. “The USDA has not addressed the risk posed by unregulated, black-market cattle,” Peppler said. “If they end up in the conventional market, they could be exported to the U.S.”

The APHIS risk assessment for Santa Catarina states that “The proposed action is not expected to result in beef or other ruminant meat exports to the U.S. of any appreciable quantity, and trade effects for pork products are likely to be insignificant.” RMFU asks how small the benefits are that we are willing to take such risks for. The USDA itself has issued dire estimates of those risks.

Testifying before a joint House committee addressing livestock diseases as a threat to national security, APHIS Chief Veterinarian Dr. John Clifford described a study conducted recently by the USDA’s Economic Research Service which simulated a FMD outbreak in a small hog operation in the midwest. The estimated losses were between $2.8 and $4.1 billion. Another study, based on a hypothetical FMD outbreak in California, projected losses between $8 and $14 billion.

The APHIS risk assessment is the final barrier to importing livestock from Brazil. “If APHIS approves this risk assessment, our domestic livestock industry will be jeopardized by a disease threat that could destroy our domestic supply and international markets,” Peppler said. “We urge the USDA to retain current restrictions on imported livestock from Brazil.”