Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

U.S. Senate in bipartisan vote blocks Biden rule to reopen Paraguayan beef imports • Source New Mexico

The U.S. Senate easily passed a resolution Thursday to repeal a Biden administration rule allowing for beef to be imported from Paraguay.

The measure, introduced by Democrat Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Mike Rounds of South Dakota, passed on a bipartisan 70-25 vote. The resolution was made under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to undo executive branch rules within a certain timeframe.

The resolution targets a final rule the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued in November that allowed for importation of Paraguayan beef that met certain conditions, including that foot-and-mouth disease had not been diagnosed in the region for at least a year.

Until then, the U.S. had not allowed Paraguayan beef imports since 1997.

Tester and Rounds, who represent major beef-producing states, filed a Congressional Review Act resolution this month to reverse the rule.

They each took to the Senate floor Thursday to advocate for the measure.

Though the risk of foot-and-mouth disease may be low, the effects of just one outbreak would be disastrous for beef producers, Tester said.

“The truth is the administration butchered this decision,” Tester said. “I have serious concerns that Paraguay does not currently meet the animal health standards that are in place to award access to our markets.”

“American producers work tirelessly to produce the safest, highest-quality and most affordable beef in the entire world,” Rounds said. “Our consumers should be able to confidently feed their families beef that has met the rigorous standards required within the United States.”

A similar resolution has been introduced in the House by Rep. Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican.

Last U.S. case in 1929

Foot-and-mouth disease is a virus that affects animals with split hooves, including common livestock like cows, pigs and sheep.

The U.S. last had a reported case in 1929, but other countries have seen more recent outbreaks. Paraguay reported an outbreak in 2012.

As of September 2022, cattle in South America were 98.6% free of the virus, according to the Pan American Health Organization. That was up from 85% in 2010.

The rule requires that meat can be exported if foot-and-mouth disease has not been diagnosed in the region for at least 12 months, if the meat comes from premises where the disease has not been present during the animals’ lifetimes and if the animals were inspected before and after death.

Geopolitical concerns

President Joe Biden’s administration opposed the congressional resolution, saying the USDA had gone through a robust review process and determined Paraguayan imports were low risk.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the rule would have minimal effect on domestic beef production and that overturning it would harm relations with Paraguay.

The resolution would “mark a significant setback in the United States-Paraguay bilateral relationship,” the Tuesday statement read, noting that U.S. adversaries including Russia and China ban Paraguayan beef over geopolitical disagreements.

“This resolution would amplify the false narratives pushed by our adversaries that the United States is not a reliable economic partner,” the administration statement said.

Tester, who is seeking reelection this year in a state that has trended increasingly Republican, has often bucked his party on issues affecting rural interests. He said geopolitical concerns were driving the administration move.

“I think the State Department is having a lot of influence on this decision,” he said.

Tester, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he is appreciative of the need to work with allies. But he said that objective shouldn’t compromise food safety.

“I share my colleagues’ concerns about what’s going on in China and Russia right now,” he said. “I understand the importance of strengthening alliances with partners all over the world, including Paraguay. But I’m telling you that we shouldn’t do it on the backs of hardworking American ranchers.”

Under the November rule, Paraguayan imports would be subject to the same quota level applied to countries in Latin America and elsewhere, the White House said. In part due to the quota, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service expected about 6,500 metric tons of Paraguayan beef would reach the U.S. annually.

U.S. inspectors haven’t visited Paraguayan sites since 2014, Tester and Rounds said in their speeches Thursday.

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