"We really think that we are doing what we need to protect our soybeans from soybean rust from its artificial spread," said Ed Curlett, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "When it comes to the natural spread, we don't have regulatory authority over nature."

The American Soybean Association late last month asked the USDA to consider taking the extra safeguard because of rising concerns the Asian rust fungus could appear in the United States this year.

The disease, which spreads rapidly by the wind, has infected the major South American soy-producing countries of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

It is generally thought that Asian rust will show up in the United States within one or two years. If introduced into the United States, the disease is so infectious that the USDA believes any quarantine or eradication efforts would be futile. Currently the only way to reduce losses is through spraying nearby crops with chemicals.

Experts estimate an introduction of the disease could cost American farmers up to $7.2 billion, about half the value of the U.S. soybean crop.

Posted, May 8 2003