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Opinion - Opinion
At Legislature: Oppose beef imports from BrazilTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Al Davis

You may have heard that the USDA was considering relaxing rules which prohibit the importation of fresh or frozen meat from Brazil.

Much of South America is still afflicted with Foot and Mouth disease which was eradicated in the United States in l929. The USDA is proposing to develop regions within Brazil which are already free of Foot and Mouth disease and permit beef, pork, or sheep meat to be imported from those regions, although neighboring nations and states within Brazil still record cases of the disease.

I am extremely alarmed by this proposal because Foot and Mouth disease is an incredibly destructive disease of all cloven-hoofed animals and I believe it would be irresponsible for the United States to consider taking this step at this time.

By establishing regions within a nation with different export rules, it is inevitable that a price differential will develop between regions. The regions that still have the disease will have lower priced livestock than those which are free of the disease. It is easy to see that animals will be moving back and forth across that line illegally to take advantage of better prices in one part of the nation and, in that way, the disease will move across international boundaries in fresh, frozen, or chilled meat products. Our US livestock industry must be protected from this threat.   

 There are two types of Legislative Resolutions that a Senator may introduce. 

Congratulatory resolutions are introduced on a daily basis and become part of the legislative record without going through the hearing process. Senators introduce multiple congratulatory resolutions each year.

Policy Resolutions demonstrate the political will of the legislative body and therefore require more oversight and debate than do congratulatory resolutions. Policy resolutions are required to proceed through the hearing process, must be voted out of committee and then heard on the floor during the last few days of the session. 

The body can then vote to proceed with the resolutions if they believe the policy is justified.

During 2013, I introduced a resolution that requested that the US Forest Service reconsider an earlier decision it had made which had required neighboring ranchers to assume the entire cost of rebuilding fences following the 2012 fires in Dawes and Sioux Counties. 

That resolution passed the Legislature in June 2013 and shortly after it was sent to the Forest Service, we were notified that they intended to reverse their decision, thanks in large part to the efforts of the US Forest Service staff in Chadron.

This year I introduced two policy resolutions. 

One encouraged the USDA, Congress, and the President to continue supporting Country of Origin Rules and Regulations for food products. That resolution did not clear committee, primarily due to the opposition of the Nebraska Cattlemen. 

The other policy resolution, LR 413, calls on USDA to cancel its plans to relax importation regulations for the importation of fresh, chilled, and frozen beef products from Brazil, due to the unresolved issue of Foot and Mouth Disease in that nation.  LR 413 cleared the Legislature on April 10 as one of four policy resolutions that passed in 2014.

LR 413 was heard by the Agricultural Committee in February. Supporting testimony came from the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, the Nebraska Cattlemen, and the Nebraska Farmer's Union. The Nebraska Farm Bureau and Dr. Alan Doster, a veterinary pathologist at UNL, also testified on the bill in the neutral capacity, although their testimony was extremely supportive of LR 413. 

I learned more about Foot and Mouth Disease that day than I ever wanted to know and everything I learned made me more and more convinced that USDA is being extremely short sighted in ever considering regionalization of a nation's import restrictions when it comes to Foot and Mouth Disease. 

The virus is extremely contagious, can travel through the air over 70 miles, and is viable for several days. There are more than 60 strains with several different serotypes, so the development of a vaccine for the disease is extremely cumbersome and problematic — especially for a disease tjhat can travel so quickly and so rapidly. 

Foot and Mouth Disease was reintroduced into Great Britain in 2002. To eradicate the disease, more than 6 million animals were killed, burned and buried. Nebraska's economy, as the No. 1 beef cattle feeding state in the nation and with over 25% of the land area tied to range production, would be devastated if that were to happen. 

Nebraska's reliance on the cattle industry means we need to be at the front lines in protecting our industry and securing the future for our children.

LR 413 clearly states that Nebraska's legislature opposes relaxation of rules for nations that are not completely Foot and Mouth Disease free. Copies of the resolution were sent to Nebraska's congressional delegation, to Tom Vilsak, Secretary of Agriculture and to President Obama. The USDA comment period closed yesterday. I submitted testimony yesterday afternoon on the USDA website and forwarded a copy of the resolution to the monitors of that sight.

USDA's attempts to introduce cheaper meat products to the nation should never be used as a bludgeon to compromise the integrity of Nebraska's number one industry and I am optimistic that USDA will choose to leave existing rules and regulations intact.


Al Davis, a rancher near Hyannis, represents district 43 in north central Nebraska in the Legislature.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/23/2014
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