South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke, joins with the National Farmers Union organization in stating his extreme disappointment over the  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) decision to allow importation of fresh and chilled beef from regions of Brazil and Argentina which have a history of Foot-and-Mouth Disease.

"I cannot imagine how APHIS could make such a ruling. This move has potentially devastating consequences for American family farmers and ranchers," said Sombke, also a fourth-generation Conde cattle producer. "I have toured these countries and witnessed first-hand how their health standards fall short of the health standards required of, and implemented by, U.S. cattle producers.

As President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff continued meeting today, Sombke explains that Farmers Union is concerned due to the highly contagious nature of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), the importation of live animals from South America brings with it the potential spread of the disease to U.S. cattle. "An outbreak could result in not only health safety issues, but also quarantine and eradication of animals, as well as a ban on U.S. beef exports," said Roger Johnson, President of National Farmers Union. "Overall, this could lead to reduced consumer confidence as well as economically devastating risks to American livestock producers."

Johnson added. "U.S. farmers and ranchers are known throughout the world for the high standards to which livestock herds are raised in this country and our long-standing disease prevention efforts."

The timing of this decision falls when many Americans are igniting their grills. "With our most patriotic of holidays approaching, Americans will soon be throwing burgers and steaks on their backyard grills. The fact that APHIS is allowing two countries with several reports of this highly contagious livestock disease to import live animals, is very unsettling," Sombke said.

How FMD impacted European Countries

In 2001, an outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom (UK) resulted in the slaughter or burning of nearly 3 million animals. The epidemic was costly both to farmers and the economy; total losses to agriculture and the food chain amounting to roughly £3.1 billion.

A 2002 study conducted by Purdue University and the Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health at APHIS found that if an epidemic similar to the outbreak that occurred in the U.K. in 2001 were to strike the U.S., a loss of $14 billion in U.S. farm income (in 2002 dollars) would result.

Delegates of the 113th National Farmers Union Anniversary Convention made animal disease protection a top issue for the general farm organization, noting concerns with weakening disease protection measures in a Special Order of Business to the 2015 NFU Policy.

"NFU strongly opposes the administration's decision to allow importation of beef from Argentina and Brazil," said Johnson. "The economic livelihood of producers and the health of consumers is critical and at stake."

NFU has previously submitted comments to APHIS on imports of beef from Northern Argentina and Brazil.