On Monday, thirty-two groups filed a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) urging both agencies to abandon plans to relax U.S. foot-and-mouth disease restrictions with regards to Brazilian beef and other livestock products.

The letter came as a response to the joint news release issued by the agencies on April 6, announcing the proposed rule would be published in the April 16 Federal Register.  The proposed rule would recognize the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina as free of foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, classical swine fever, African swine fever, and swine vesicular disease.  

The recognition would come based on World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.  There is also a current risk evaluation underway with aims to identify appropriate risk mitigation measures to determine whether fresh beef can be imported from Brazil while preventing the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease into the United States.

“United States consumers, farmers and ranchers deserve more protection against the risk of disease importation from their government, not less,” the groups wrote in an attempt to encourage the agencies to reconsider their actions.

According to the USDA, foot-and-mouth disease is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of cattle and swine.  It is not a threat to people and no human health risks are associated with the disease, but it also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other ruminants with cloven hooves.

Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus and signs of the illness in animals can appear after an incubation period of 1 to 8 days, but often develop within 3 days.  There are seven known types and more than 60 subtypes of the foot-and-mouth disease virus.  

The letter criticized the agencies’ plan to relax foot-and-mouth disease restrictions by calling it “fundamentally flawed and extremely dangerous.”  Restrictions would be abated through the OIE’s concept of “regionalization.”  Regionalization is an approach where unaffected areas within a foot-and-mouth disease-affected country are “carved-out” and designated “foot-and-mouth disease-free.”  

The USDA’s Current Export Requirements for Brazil briefly mention foot-and-mouth disease, indicating that companies selling pork casings must record whether the product was derived from animals that, “had been born and had been raised in a country or a zone free of foot-and-mouth disease, as defined by the International Animal Health Code of the [World Organization for Animal Health].”

In addition to being sent to the USDA and the Trade Representative, the letter was also sent to select members of Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and each state’s animal health office.  The news release was prompted after U.S. and Brazilian negotiators reached a compromise about trade issues involving cotton. 

The letter accuses the agencies’ concession on foot-and-mouth disease restrictions to be a trade-off used to resolve the cotton dispute.  The letter goes as far as to say that this action demonstrates the new Administration is continuing down a path that has, “allowed trade-related objectives to decisively trump food safety and animal health safety.”

National Organizations that signed the letter include: the American Agricultural Movement Inc., the American Grassfed Association; the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance; the Intertribal Agriculture Council; the National Farmers Organization; National Grange; R-CALF USA; the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project; the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

State, regional, and country organizations that signed the letter include: the Alaska Farmers Union; the California Farmers Union; the Cattle Producers of Washington; the Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association; the Idaho Rural Council; the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota; the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska; the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming; the Kansas Cattleman’s Association; the Kansas Farmers Union; the MIssissippi Livestock Markets association; the Missouri Farmers Union; the Missouri’s Best Beef Co-Operative’ the Nebraska Farmers Union; the Nebraska Live Stock Association; the New England Farmers Union; the Ohio Farmers Union; the Oregon Livestock Producers Association; the Pennsylvania Independent Farmers and Consumers Association Inc.; the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; the SmallHolders Alliance of Massachusetts; the South Dakota Stockgrowers association; and The Hualapai Tribe of Arizona.