Cattle Groups Unite, Oppose Brazil Beef Imports

For perhaps the first time in many years, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and R-CALF USA and the US Cattlemen’s Association agree that the USDA’s action to allow Brazilian beef imports is a risky move.

The USDA announced Monday they had relaxed a ban on imports of Brazilian beef, a move that could pressure US beef and cattle prices should imports amount to any appreciable volume.  Coincidentally, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday announced that Brazil had opened its markets to US beef.

But the main issue isn’t economic.  Critics of allowing Brazilian beef imports point to scattered incidents of Foot and Mouth Disease in some provinces, the result of a somewhat porous border with neighboring countries.

Nevil Speer, vice president of US operations for AgriClear Inc., said the move was troublesome because importing FMD to this country could be devastating, not only to the cattle, hog and sheep industries, but the ripple effect could take down the US economy as well.

 

FMD BACKGROUND

 

Sometimes seen as the most contagious disease known to man, Foot and Mouth Disease affects cloven-hooved livestock with sores inside the mouth and on the feet.  Affected animals can hardly walk, eat or drink.  At times, the skin of the tongue has been known to slough off.

There are two ways to treat an outbreak, but neither is desirable.  The first is to quarantine the affected farm and those surrounding it.  Then begin a systematic slaughter of all livestock within the circle, whether they are sick or not.

The second is to quarantine the farm and surrounding farms within a large radius.  Then begin working into the center with vaccinations and a final culling of affected animals.

Pre-outbreak vaccination works but is far from 100% effective, and vaccinated animals will give a positive reading on a blood test for life, rendering them unfit for commerce.

Animal welfare critics will argue that culling of affected and associated livestock is too draconian and cruel because FMD often does not kill the animal.  Most will recover.

However, those that recovered still can never leave the farm, and their usefulness for other production possibilities is gone.  In effect, they’d just as well be slaughtered, since they can’t produce or be sold.

The US has not had a case of FMD since 1929, and the livestock industries would like to keep it that way.  It doesn’t matter if FMD is brought in unintentionally or not, the US would lose its export markets immediately, and even interstate commerce would halt until health officials got a grip on who, where, how and how much and why.

The latest large, well-documented case of FMD happened in the UK in the summer of 2001.  It was thought to have originated with a contaminated shipment of meat from China, the leftovers of which were fed to swine without complete cooking.

Millions of animals were slaughtered and burned on site to contain the disease, and export markets were closed for years.

 

CASH CATTLE MARKET QUIET

 

Cash cattle markets remained quiet Wednesday, with bidding $114 per cwt on a live basis against offers of $120 to $122.  Dressed-basis bids were at $188 with asking prices at $19- to $192.

Cash markets last week were $1 to $2.50 per cwt higher at $116 to $117.50 live and $186 to $188 dressed.

The USDA’s choice cutout Wednesday was $0.80 per cwt higher at $199.20, while select was up $0.20 at $191.66.  The choice/select spread widened to $7.54 from $6.94 with 102 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $145.27 per cwt, up $0.15.  This compares with the Aug settlement Wednesday of $147.47, up $2.00.