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Where’s the beef? Not from Brazil

By Jeremy Fuchs, Director of public affairs Texas and S

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on June 22 the suspension of all imports of fresh beef from Brazil because of recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market.  The suspension of shipments will remain in place until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action that the USDA finds satisfactory.
Since March, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been inspecting 100 percent of all meat products arriving in the United States from Brazil.  FSIS has refused entry to 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products.   That figure is substantially higher than the rejection rate of one percent of shipments from the rest of the world.  Since implementation of the increased inspection, FSIS has refused entry to 106 lots (approximately 1.9 million pounds) of Brazilian beef products due to public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues. It is important to note that none of the rejected lots made it into the U.S. market.
The Brazilian government had pledged to address those concerns, including by self-suspending five facilities from shipping beef to the United States.  Today’s action to suspend all fresh beef shipments from Brazil supersedes the self-suspension.
Secretary Perdue issued the following statement:
“Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness.  Although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers. That’s what we’ve done by halting the import of Brazilian fresh beef.  I commend the work of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for painstakingly safeguarding the food we serve our families.”
Although a proponent of international trade, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) has consistently objected to allowing importation of fresh (chilled and frozen) Brazilian beef amidst disease concerns. Since they began allowing imports last year, we have urged USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to review their policy on allowing the imports because of these concerns.
USDA’s press release, stating that 11 percent of Brazilian imports have been rejected seems to support our concerns. According to the release, rejections for the rest of the world’s beef are only 1 percent.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS) doesn’t recognize Brazil as being free of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). FMD is an extremely contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals and many wildlife species. The reintroduction of this disease into the U.S. could cause a widespread quarantine and possible massive depopulation of the U.S. cattle herd, thus compromising the nation’s economic security and jeopardizing the U.S. beef supply. Massive depopulation of beef herds would not only impact cattle raisers, but the entire population. Demand would out strip supply, causing increased food prices, and potential shortages. FMD has been eradicated from the U.S. since 1929.
Massive criminal investigations into alleged corruption within Brazil’s meat industry and food safety organization have stunned consumers and trading partners across the globe. As of March this year, 21 food processing plants are under investigation, and authorities have shut down six of those plants. The fifteen processing plants that haven’t been shut down (at least not yet) are prohibited from exporting their products. Tainted meat exports have allegedly been shipped around the world.
Brazil’s history of significant, chronic animal disease and lack of strict animal disease control and eradication measures are now amplified by apparent corruption within the inspection process. This significantly increases the risk to the health of U.S. cattle herds. For consumers, it also calls into question the safety of the U.S. beef supply, potentially damaging future demand for domestic beef.