Influence Analytics: Cattlemen and congressmen fight against South American beef

Argentinian steak. Photo credit: Abigail Davis/Flickr

While 2014 was waning, cattlemen across the country were writing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) against a proposal to allow certain beef imports from Argentina.

The USDA proposal to allow the meat into the U.S. followed the World Trade Organization’s 2013 decision to consider Argentina’s complaint that an existing U.S. ban on imports of its beef is illegal.

The letters — numbering at least 100 — were organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The NCBA also submitted comments asserting that allowing the beef imports would risk infecting U.S. cattle with foot and mouth disease (FMD): “We have significant concerns for Argentina’s willingness and ability to provide consistent compliance with FMD risk mitigation measures…”

The NCBA letter also stated that the USDA had not complied with a Freedom of Information Act request for background documents on agency assessments of risk and other issues related both to the Argentina proposal, as well as an earlier one to allow more beef products from Brazil. The comment periods on the two proposals — to allow imports from Argentina and from Brazil — are now closed. The Brazil proposal drew nearly 900 comments, while the Argentina proposal drew more than 200.

The NCBA has been fighting the prospect of competition from the southern hemisphere on a number of fronts. The group has even gotten help from members of Congress: In September, two groups of lawmakers wrote letters urging the General Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the methodology used by the USDA to conclude that such beef imports are safe.

This letter, organized by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a veterinarian and member of the House Agriculture Committee, was signed by five other lawmakers; it requests that no imports be made from Brazil before a GAO study. NCBA is one of Yoho’s top career donors — giving $17,000 according to Influence Explorer — and livestock donors are one of his top contributing industries, with $33,500.

And this letter, led by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, requests the GAO review the USDA’s evaluation of Argentinian beef. Sessions has collected more than $90,000 from livestock interests during his career in Congress.

While the NCBA appears to be the main group behind organized opposition to the Argentina proposal, concerns have been raised by other groups as well. The consumer group Food and Water Watch filed comments raising not just the issue of potential FMD contamination, but also food safety. “Argentina has a very checkered food safety track record for the meat products it is permitted to export to the United States,” wrote the group. Among the problems found in past audits, according to the group: carcass head contamination, lack of access to water for cattle and poor controls for salmonella detection.


In other news from Sunlight’s influence trackers:

Keystone, everywhere: The Senate has voted to move forward on the issue of approving the controversial Keystone pipeline, which has become a flashpoint between the new GOP Congress and President Barack Obama. On OpenCongress, viewers are checking out the House and Senate bills on Keystone. Meanwhile, “Keystone,” was one of the words uttered most by members of Congress on the House and Senate floors during Jan. 7-8, according to Capitol Words. And in Missouri, a bill has been introduced urging Congress to support the pipeline, according to Open States.