Members of Congress urge officials to reevaluate Scrapie Import Rule
In his final days, former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue passed the Importation of Sheep, Goats and Certain Other Ruminants Rule, also known as the Scrapie Import Rule, which had remained a proposed rule since July 18, 2016.
On Jan. 28, a coalition of Congressmen joined in a concerned letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Acting Secretary Kevin Shea.
The legislators, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX), urged Shea to reevaluate the rule prior to implementation, siting the rule has the potential to further damage the lamb industry and lacks economic analysis to reflect current market conditions.
Final scrapie rule
On Feb. 5, Cramer led another group of senators in a letter urging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Robert Fairweather to withdraw the final rule.
The letter was signed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), as well as Barrasso, Lummis and Hoeven.
“The federal government has invested over $200 million into scrapie eradication since the early 2000s,” reads the letter. “This investment has yielded tremendous results, lowering the percentage of scrapie-positive cull sheep at slaughter by 99 percent since Fiscal Year 2003.”
“By allowing scrapie-positive animals and genetic materials into the U.S., we risk reintroducing the very disease we have nearly eradicated,” the senators share.
According to the Feb. 5 letter, the rule would remove bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) related restrictions on imported sheep and goats, as well as many of their products.
“The existing BSE-related import restrictions function as a necessary protection against the introduction of other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), such as scrapie,” the letter continues.
In the letter to Shea, the legislators share the Importation of Sheep, Goats and Certain Other Ruminants Rule will allow additional imports of lamb from countries who have an unfair trade advantage thanks to subsidies and note the U.S. lamb market is already crowded with more than half of the lamb consumed in the U.S. imported into the nation.
“Sheep producers were hit hard last summer when the Mountain States Rosen processing plant closed,” note the legislators. “This rule would deliver another substantial blow to an industry already distressed by extreme predation, increasing labor costs and loss of access to federal lands grazing.”
Additionally, the Jan. 28 letter shares this rule would undercut efforts to open markets for American lamb in foreign countries, particularly the leverage to export into the United Kingdom.
“The rule no longer meets regulatory criteria to consider economic consequences. The Regulatory Impact Review and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis released by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) during the initial rulemaking process was based on economic data, which is now nearly a decade old,” the letter continues.
Animal health concerns
Along with initiating concerns for the already troubled U.S. lamb market, the passage of this rule creates a herd health risk for producers. According to the letter, the prevalence of scrapie in 2016 was 0.001 percent, and allowing the reemergence of the disease into U.S. sheep flocks would be devastating.
In addition, the rule risks the introduction of a new disease, the Schmallenberg virus, into U.S. flocks. This virus is associated with ruminants from the European Union, according to APHIS.
In support of both the U.S. lamb market and flock health, the Feb. 5 letter reads, “Prior to a domestic BSE occurrence in cattle in 2003, Japan was the primary export market for U.S. lamb. Japan quickly closed American access to its market, and the U.S. did not recoup until 2018.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.