How many of you have heard of the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE)? It was founded in 1924, through an international agreement to “ensure transparency in the global animal disease situation, in order to collect, analyze and disseminate veterinary scientific information.” Through the years, it has encouraged international cohesion to control animal diseases and set standards for veterinary services, resulting in a safeguard for international trade in animals and their products.
Why should we know what OIE is and what it does? The world looks to OIE for information when there is an outbreak of African Swine Flu, Foot and Mouth Disease or Mad Cow Disease (BSE). The OIE website lists all the diseases and infections that require notification when a country discovers a case.
The list is long and covers domestic animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, bees, poultry and swine. There are 182 member countries involved with OIE and OIE has been recognized by the World Trade Organization as a reference organization. A country reports animal diseases to OIE so the rest of the world can take appropriate action. OIE has reporting standards which all members agree to follow, such as reporting any occurrence within 24 hours and having a nation’s veterinary authorities give periodic updates as efforts to combat the disease and the disease progress within that country’s borders.
OIE is an important cog in identifying and fighting global animal diseases. Its goal is simple; find out where and when animal diseases occur and work with members to control and contain these diseases. This helps keep our domestic animals safe and keeps our food supply safe and reliable. In 2003, when the U.S. had its first BSE case in Washington State, our government reported it immediately to OIE.
I remember being very nervous around the holidays not knowing how this would affect our cattle markets. Japan and North Korea banned our imports right away. The world knew because we did not hide anything. Since then, we have had a total of six BSE cases in the U.S., all deemed atypical, or naturally occurring. This separates it from disease from contaminated feed. We have played by the rules and have ridden out the bumps as they have presented themselves for export bans and market fluctuations. This year, Germany and the United Kingdom reported BSE cases within days of their occurrence.
Currently, one country is not playing by these rules. Brazil has had two atypical cases of BSE this year. They reported these cases on September 3, but Brazil knew about them in June. This raises a red flag. How can we trust the Brazilian government about food safety if they don’t live up to the standard that 181 other countries have agreed to follow?
This is not the first time Brazil has delayed reporting BSE. The country was months, even years behind reporting cases in 2019, 2014 and 2012. Already, China has banned Brazilian beef. China is the world’s largest importer of beef and Brazil is the largest exporter of beef. Is the Brazilian government’s plan to dump its beef into the U.S.? That seems a likely scenario. The only way to stop this is by having Congress step up and ban Brazilian beef until they adhere to the OIE regulations.
Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., has a bill to ban Brazilian imports until there is a systemic review of Brazil’s reporting system. This is about food safety and security. I ask you to contact your senators and ask them to back this bill. Tester has put forth similar legislation before concerning Brazil’s poultry and beef safety, and that was after the 2019 incident of non-reporting by Brazil. Let’s make sure that these issues are dealt with the proper way, openly and honestly.
The writer is the vice president of the National Farmers Organization. He is a cow/calf rancher in Montana.