Paraguay is a small, landlocked country with far bigger neighbors in Argentina and Brazil. Over time, it evolved into one of South America’s best. The USDA will allow the United States to import fresh beef from Paraguay, but it’s not expected to amount to much, only .05 percent of U.S. fresh beef imports.

You would be wrong if you think that a tiny amount is not enough to generate any controversy.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the beef industry’s largest trade group, “strongly opposes” the USDA decision that is expected to see Paraguayan beef imports beginning next month. 

The NCBA opposes the imports because of Paraguay’s history of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and because it says USDA used outdated information to justify Paraguay’s access to the U.S. market.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a severe and highly contagious viral disease. The FMD virus causes illness in cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, and other animals with divided hooves. It does not affect horses, dogs or cats.   

The NCBA is concerned that the USDA’s failure to use information from recent site visits in the risk assessment may pose a significant risk to the safety of the U.S. cattle herd.

“USDA based their decision to allow beef imports from Paraguay on a deeply flawed risk assessment that uses old data from site visits conducted more than nine years ago. Paraguay has a history of FMD outbreaks, and it is unclear if their inspection system can provide an equivalent level of safety for animal health to prevent a possible FMD outbreak on U.S. soil,” said NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus. “Paraguay heavily relies on private sector funding for most of its FMD mitigation measures, and USDA did not consider the risk associated with Paraguay’s economic downturn over the last several years.

“Gaining beef access to the U.S. market has been the top priority for Paraguay in multiple rounds of trade discussions. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a foreign country’s beef access to the United States was a pre-determined outcome and used as a bargaining tool for other U.S. interests. The dismissal of legitimate concerns from U.S. cattle producers is unacceptable, and USDA should halt this unscientific, unsafe rulemaking. While winning friends and allies in South America may be part of the long-term interests of U.S. diplomacy, it should not be done on the backs of U.S. cattle producers or by putting at risk the health and livelihood of the safest and most efficient cattle and beef production system in the world.” 

The NCBA filed comments earlier this year calling on USDA to continue blocking fresh beef imports from Paraguay due to Paraguay’s history of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and the “outdated” information from site visits in 2008 and 2014 that were used to justify Paraguay’s access. NCBA also raised concerns about Paraguay’s ability to fund and administer FMD safeguards and called into question the security of their borders with other countries, including Brazil. 

NCBA urged USDA to continue the ban on Paraguayan beef imports until a thorough review can be conducted and U.S. cattle producers are assured Paraguay can provide an equivalent level of safety for U.S. consumers and livestock.

Paraguay’s fresh beef imports to the United States are expected to run between 3,250 and 6,500 tons.

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