Farmers warn Brazilian beef could contaminate food supply

U.S. farmers say importing Brazilian beef could contaminate the nation's food supply and cost the industry billions.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson warned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday not to allow beef imports from Brazil, where the country's livestock recently suffered from foot and mouth disease.

In comments filed with the USDA, Johnson said farmers are concerned the disease could spread to their livestock, if they run into contact with contaminated Brazilian beef products.

"U.S. farmers and ranchers are known throughout the world for our long-standing disease prevention efforts and high food safety standards," Johnson said. "USDA must not endanger this reputation, or consumers' safety, for the sake of cheap imported food."

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is considering reversing a ban on Brazilian beef products. Last December, the agency proposed lifting the current restrictions on beef imports from Brazil.

After delaying the rule in February, the USDA's comment period closes Tuesday.

Such a rule would allow U.S. companies to import chilled and frozen beef from certain areas of Brazil.

But U.S. farmers are afraid these imports would infect their own livestock. Johnson pointed to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Brazil late last year as a reason to not lift the ban.

He also noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled Brazilian meat in 2010 due to contamination. 

"As we've seen in the past, consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply is easily jeopardized by even rumored threats," Johnson argued. 

He pointed to studies that show a food and mouth disease outbreak in the U.S. could cost the farming industry as much as $14 billion, as it quarantines and kills the infected animals, halts exports, and deals with reduced consumer confidence which leads to fewer domestic sales.