Washington, D.C. — Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) proposed a rule that would — for the first time — recognize the disease status of a subregion of a country and allow fresh and frozen meat from the region to be exported to the United States.

The pending change — published in the Jan. 5, 2007, Federal Register — would declare a portion of Argentina known as the Patagonia South region, free of rinderpest and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

“This change would allow for the exportation of fresh and frozen meat products — including beef products — from the Patagonia South region to the United States,” said Doug Zalesky, R-CALF USA's International Trade Committee Chair. “The proposed rule would set an important precedent in the regulation of U.S. meat imports, and may open the door to the certification of additional regions within countries — before those countries have achieved disease-free status at a national level.”

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) — last diagnosed in the U.S. in 1929 and sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease — is an acute, contagious, feverish — but usually not fatal — disease of cattle, hogs, sheep, and other cloven-hoofed animals.

Rinderpest, sometimes called cattle plague, is an acute, often fatal, contagious viral disease, chiefly of cattle, characterized by ulceration of the digestive tract, resulting in diarrhea. Rinderpest also affects sheep and is characterized by high fever, diarrhea, and lesions of the skin and mucous membranes.

“USDA's plans to regionalize FMD zones to enable additional beef exports to the U.S. are of great concern,” said R-CALF USA International Trade Committee Chair Doug Zalesky.

Zalesky has testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) regarding R-CALF USA's opposition to a potential increase in beef imports from free trade agreement (FTA) partners if those partners are able to achieve U.S. disease-status recognition for regions within their sovereign borders and FTA rules fail to include adequate safeguards accounting for such a possibility.

“The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has failed to include adequate rules of origin in previous FTAs with Central American and South American countries that have a problem with FMD, so strong import regulations serve as the last line of defense to prevent the transshipment of cattle from other regions within Argentina that continue to have disease problems into these newly designated FMD free zones for slaughter and export to the U.S. market,” Zalesky pointed out.

“Currently, the majority of Central and South American countries are blocked from exporting fresh and frozen beef to the U.S. because of disease concerns,” Zalesky continued. “While the Patagonia South region has been recognized as FMD-free by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), current U.S transshipment safeguards regarding FMD have never been tested in controlling cross-regional movement within national boundaries.

“The new rules must be closely scrutinized to ensure that the regionalization of disease-affected countries like Argentina — for purposes of expanding meat exports — does not weaken health and safety protections for our domestic cattle herd,” he emphasized.

Zalesky also is concerned that USDA's recognition of an FMD-free zone in Argentina could open the door for other Central American and South American nations looking to export beef to the United States.

“The recognition of this subregion begins the process of increased imports from Central and South American countries,” Zalesky explained. “Several times, the proponents of free trade with these areas have argued that the importation of beef from these countries was highly unlikely because of FMD.

“However, this announcement shows that even those countries that only have achieved FMD-free status for subregions within their nations may be able to increase beef exports to the United States,” he said. “USDA's approach would establish — for a region with more than 250 million head of cattle and continuous disease problems — a beach-head to our domestic beef market.”

To prevent price-depressing import surges, R-CALF USA consistently has maintained the need for safeguards in FTAs, as well as special provisions that cattle and beef be treated as a perishable and cyclical item in bilateral FTAs and at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

R-CALF USA also is concerned with trade liberalization proposals such as this that involve highly contagious foreign animal diseases, and believe it would be premature for the U.S. to allow beef exports from subregions within disease-affected countries.

Public comments on the proposed rule are due by March 6. To submit comments, visit http://www.regulations.gov and select the “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service” link from the agency's drop-down menu.

Note: To view the proposed rule in its entirety, please visit the “International Trade” link or the “Animal Health” link at www.r-calfusa.com.