The move come after news that the Patagonia region, to the south of northern Argentina, which comprises Patagonia South and Patagonia North B, has been added to APHIS’ list of regions that are considered to be free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
A risk assessment was carried out by APHIS, at the request of the government of Argentina, which indicated that fresh beef could safely be imported to the US from northern Argentina, provided certain conditions were met, and that the country would be able to comply with the US import restrictions.
The assessment included five visits to the country, in order to assess its ability to effectively contain, eradicate and report an FMD outbreak. Two of the factors considered when assessing risk factors are the region’s disease status and vaccination status.
APHIS does not recognise countries or regions that continue to vaccinate against FMD as being free of the disease. While livestock continue to be vaccinated against FMD in northern Argentina, meaning that APHIS cannot recognise it as being FMD-free, it has evaluated the risk presented by the imports of fresh beef from the region, under certain conditions, and has proposed to allow imports based on the results of this analysis.
Bob McCan, president, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) in the US, said it was "deeply concerned" by the announcement that the Patagonia areas of Argentina has been recognised as FMD-free, subsquently opening up the market for live cattle and fresh or frozen beef to be imported into the US from this region.
"Our extreme concern is only further magnified by the associated proposed rule to allow chilled or frozen beef to be imported from the region of Northern Argentina. Northern Argentina is a region that is not recognized as being free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease by APHIS."
He said the NCBA strongly believed that these actions present a significant risk to the health and well-being of US cattle through the possible introduction of FMD.
"NCBA’s repeated requests for written reports for these APHIS site visits to Argentina have gone unanswered. Finally, we were informed by APHIS that written reports are not required for APHIS site reviews. This lack of documentation and an obvious lack of management controls for the site review process calls into question the integrity and quality assurance for the entire risk analysis. Valid science-based decisions are not possible in this flawed system," said McCan.
"It is evident that APHIS has charged blindly forward in making this announcement, ignoring the findings of a third-party scientific review identifying major weaknesses in the methodology of the risk analysis that formed the foundation for the APHIS decision-making process."
Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, the general public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule.
Imports of cattle and water buffalo from the US are currently banned by Argentina due to a risk of BSE, while swine and swine semen is also banned due to a risk of porcine reproduction and respiratory syndrome.