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NCBA discusses concern over USDA’s decision to allow Paraguay beef imports

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Dec. 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published an official notice confirming Paraguay’s eligibility to import raw beef into the U.S., despite pushback from industry stakeholders. 

In fact, the day before, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Jon Tester (R-MT) filed a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn the decision, and prior to that, several letters were sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing opposition, including one from the House of Representatives and one from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). 

The administration moved forward with the ruling anyway. 

During an episode of NCBA’s Beltway Beef podcast released in December, Host Hunter Ihrman, NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus and Jaclyn Wilson, chair of NCBA’s International Trade Committee and a Nebraska rancher, discussed the association’s lingering concerns with USDA’s decision. 

Seeking access and approval

Bacus began the discussion by providing some background information on the issue. 

“For the better part of the last decade, Paraguay has had an application into USDA seeking access into the U.S. market,” he explains. “This has been a top priority on their trade agenda.” 

He notes, not only does the U.S. provide ample opportunities in the beef market, but a stamp of approval from USDA gives them the endorsement they need to take their product to other countries. 

“We have some of the highest standards in the world, so what they are really seeking is our approval,” he states. 

However, the reason Paraguay has previously been denied access to the U.S. market is their history of foot and mouth disease (FMD), which, if brought to the states, could cause mass devastation for the nation’s beef producers and agriculture industry in general. 

Bacus notes FSIS and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have spent years conducting risk assessments, participating in in-country visits and reviewing data to determine if Paraguayʼs product was up to U.S. standards. 

“They determined Paraguay was a low enough risk and gave them access,” says Bacus. “They are moving forward with the decision even though the vast majority of comments submitted strongly opposed Paraguay’s access.” 

A threat to animal health and food safety 

According to Bacus, one of the biggest concerns with granting Paraguay access to the U.S. market is the potential threat it poses to food safety and animal health. 

“Paraguay has a history of FMD. They have had cases in 2012 and other cases prior to that, which is a big concern,” he remarks. “An FMD outbreak here would be devastating to the U.S. herd.” 

Wilson reiterates, “An FMD outbreak would absolutely devastate our producers and our beef industry. The U.S. beef industry’s safety should be the number one priority for this administration, but what they are doing with this decision is not placing a priority on us. It is very unfortunate.” 

“Food security is national security and it is very important to protect our food supply. We can’t have any weakness in our defenses. We have to make sure animal health is paramount and food safety is top priority,” Bacus comments. “To compromise this in any way not only puts American cattle producers at risk, it potentially puts American consumers at risk as well.” 

Although USDA based their decision on scientific data, both Bacus and Wilson agree their data collection process was flawed. 

“One of our key concerns is the fact that when APHIS visited sites in Paraguay in 2008 and 2014, they did not have proper protocols in place to gather information accurately,” states Bacus. “We can’t make a risk assessment off of old data that could potentially be flawed.”

Bacus notes NCBA has urged USDA to press pause on their decision and take another look at the risks of inviting Paraguay imports into the market, based on the department’s new scientific processes and standards. 

“If Paraguay is truly up to our standards, the data should show this and we should have no problem at all going down there, conducting more onsite visits and gathering transparent information for review, then going through the process again,” he adds. “But, to rush it forward like this is really concerning.” 

“The main message is we don’t believe the information used to arrive at this decision is 100 percent accurate. We think it deserves review, and we want USDA to take the prudent steps to be cautious before we open up access to a country which may not be up to our standards,” he continues. 

Wilson agrees, “If the administration could go in and do things correctly, we might be able to consider this somewhere down the road, but at this point, I am not confident at all in the decision that was made and the steps taken to make this decision.” 

Other concerns

In addition to threatening food safety and animal health, Bacus and Wilson share a few of NCBA’s further concerns. 

“We also have to look at the fact USDA’s own data has shown about 85 percent of FMD mitigation measures is based off of contributions from the private sector, and when we look at the economic impact of COVID-19 and broader global issues, Paraguay’s economy has been in a bad place for the last few years. We can’t dismiss this,” Bacus notes. 

“It is also frustrating we all know this has been Paraguay’s top agenda item and we know the Biden administration is trying to win friends and allies in South America, so it seems a lot like this might be a predetermined outcome,” he states.

Wilson adds, “U.S. producers should not be used as a chess piece in trade negotiations, and that’s what it feels like this deals is. I think it was a hastily-made decision. I am concerned as a producer how this could affect my herd and my fellow producers.” 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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