The American Soybean Association has asked the USDA to temporarily ban soy imports from countries with soybean rust. Because of increased interest to protect domestic soybean production, USDA is expected to release protocols this week to slow the inevitable introduction of the disease to the U.S.
The USDA released a study last week that concluded the destructive fungus would eventually spread to the United States, but imports of soymeal and soybeans did not pose a significant threat.
Last year, the American Soybean Association (ASA) worked with APHIS to require that Brazilian soybean meal imported into Wilmington, N.C., had been processed, heat-treated, and handled in such a manner as to eliminate the possibility of any potentially viable soybean rust spores being present.
"The safety of importing commodity soybeans remains much less clear than for properly-handled soybean meal," explains ASA President Ron Heck. "ASA has raised many questions on this issue to make sure APHIS scientists are looking at all the potential risks and pulling together as much scientific knowledge as is necessary to protect the U.S. soybean industry."
During a press briefing at the 2004 Commodity Classic this week in Las Vegas, Bill Hawks, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, comments that the agency will be developing protocols for soybean imports. However, Hawks could not put a timetable on when those rules would be ready. With the South American soybean harvest just getting underway, U.S. producers are worried over the issue.
Heck, when asked about the USDA assessment that imports were not likely to bring rust to the U.S., he replied: "Not likely isn't not very likely. We want to be sure because the risk of this disease is so great."
He notes that a lot more research is needed on the spores that cause soybean rust, their life, how they spread and how they might be destroyed in processing. Technically spores don't move with whole soybeans, but ASA is worried about spores being contained in dust with the soybeans brought in from areas where the disease is present. And with 50 to 80% yield losses on infected fields, that's a valid concern.
ASA has expressed concern about contamination during the transfer and loading stages. Rust spores donâ€™t survive high temperatures, and are usually destroyed when soybeans are turned into meal. However, with the U.S. soybean shortage so acute for 2004, whole-bean imports may eventually be required.
Grain companies, which might eventually import beans, Heck says he believes that for now they'll stick to soybean meal until USDA develops import protocols. "They understand the liability involved. And on grain company wants to get the blame for bringing soybean rust to the United States," Heck points out.