SD stockgrowers: Lifting ban on Brazilian beef is bad

Farm Forum

The U.S. move recently to once more allow Brazilian beef into the American market is bad news, says Bill Kluck, president of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

“It’s extremely disturbing to think that the USDA is allowing beef from Brazil – a country that has continued to have problems meeting our health and safety standards and has a known problem containing Foot-and-mouth disease within their borders,” Kluck said in a news release Wednesday. “We just can’t understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to import beef from a country that hasn’t proved it can keep U.S. livestock producers or our customers safe.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Monday that a years-long ban on Brazilian beef imports was being lifted because Brazil’s improvements to its beef-processing industry.

It’s a two-way deal: Brazil also is allowing imports of U.S. beef for the first time in years, dating back to the “mad-cow” years a dozen years ago when fears of that brain-eating disease hurt U.S. meat in several foreign markets.

But U.S. cattle producers don’t stand to gain much from such changes, Kluck said.

Kluck says he’s OK with “fair competition,” but said the trading field is uneven with Brazil.

“They can hire labor down there at five dollars a day,” he told the Capital Journal on Aug. 3. “We can’t do that.”

It’s bad timing, too, as U.S. cattle prices have swooned the past year, Kluck said.

“Brazil has one of the largest cattle herds in the world and right now our prices are already half of what they were at their high a year ago. We just don’t need to get beat up any more.”

Kluck has a cow-calf ranch near Mud Butte, which is about 90 miles north of Rapid City.

He sells his new Angus calves in late June via a video auction from his ranch and delivers them in October to the buyers.

“I sold my feeder cattle on the 28th of June last year, about the same time as this year,” he said. He pegs the calves at 520 pounds, the weight he figures they will average in the fall, and sets a price in June with the buyers.

“A year ago I got $3.04 ( a pound) and this year, $1.63,” he said.

Last year’s price was historically high, but $732 less per head still is a big bite to lose in one year, nearly half the price, he said.

Beef from Brazil will only pressure prices lower, Kluck said.

Aside from the effect on the market, Brazilian beef poses too much of a health risk, despite what the USDA is saying, Kluck said.

“I don’t have much faith in USDA’s risk management,” he said.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said about lifting the ban on Brazilian beef: “We are pleased that Brazil, a major agricultural producing and trading country, has aligned with science-based international standards. He said it’s one of 16 nations that in the past year have dropped such restrictions on U.S. ag products.

But Kluck said Brazil’s recent experiences with Foot-and-mouth concern him, even though U.S. officials and United Nations World Health officials have said Brazil’s meat inspection standards now match U.S. levels..

There hasn’t been Foot-and-mouth in U.S. herds since 1929, Kluck said, but it remains a threat, even more with increased imports.

“It’s devastating, the speed at which it spreads and the ease. If we had an outbreak in Pierre, within 24 hours it would be all over the United States,” Kluck said. “It’s spread very, very easily. We don’t want it here.”

Tracy Brunner, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, also reacted negatively to the Brazilan beef news, saying that USDA’s measurement of the health of the food supply in other countries needs scrutiny because of the impact the beef import decision could have stateside.

The fact there hasn’t been any Foot-and-mouth in U.S. herds means there is “a current lack of FMD preparedness (that) could devastate our industry if our herd is exposed to the highly communicable disease,” Brunner said in a news release. ” We cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s livestock herds, which are the foundation of our global food supply, before all the possible risks to animal health and food safety have been properly addressed and precautions have been established.”