A step closer to Brazilian beef imports
March 28, 2019
A recent meeting between President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro set specifications into motion that could lead to the return of Brazilian beef to United States markets if the processing facilities pass inspection.
The introduction of Brazilian beef could negatively affect herd health and the beef markets in the U.S., say some.
On March 19, President Trump and President Bolsonaro of Brazil issued a joint statement saying that they were "committed to building a new partnership between their two countries focused on increasing prosperity, enhancing security, and promoting democracy, freedom, and national sovereignty."
As a part of that commitment, the two presidents discussed trade opportunities between their two countries. They also set ramifications for the possible re-introduction of Brazilian beef into the United States.
Since June of 2017, beef imports from Brazil, the leading beef exporter in the world, have been suspended due to food-safety concerns.
According to the White House statement: "In order to allow for the resumption of Brazil's beef exports, the United States agreed to expeditiously schedule a technical visit by the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service to audit Brazil's raw beef inspection system, as soon as it satisfied with Brazil's food safety documentation."
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According to R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, "decades ago" the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service labeled Brazil's food safety inspection system as "equivalent to that of the United States."
But Brazil has a messy history with meeting food safety standards.
Bullard said, "There have been at least 18 audits since 2001 all of which have failed for a variety of reasons." These reasons include high levels of Ivermectin and chemicals in the meat, failure in testing for microbials, and general lack of sanitation among others.
"Many of these violations have been repeated over the years," Bullard explained, "and there is no evidence that the corruption has been curbed."
Bullard said that in some audits it was found that Brazil wasn't properly removing material that can carry mad cow disease (BSE). The country also had a 2012 case of BSE that they did not fully reveal.
"The fact that they did not disclose that they did have a BSE case suggests that Brazil is likely to hide potentially dangerous diseases and pests from the U.S." he stated.
Dr. Brooke Miller, Vice President of the United States Cattlemen's Association wrote in a press release that "In 2017, it was revealed that Brazilian meat inspectors had been caught accepting bribes to allow expired meats to be sold and sanitary permits to be falsified."
One of the biggest risks associated with allowing Brazilian beef into the US is foot and mouth disease (FMD).
This highly contagious viral disease comes with a high mortality rate is currently non-existent in the U.S.
Miller writes that "The impact of losses from an outbreak of FMD in the U.S. would be catastrophic to the cattle industry and the national economy."
While FMD is the biggest concern for U.S. cattle health Bullard said "we don't know the extent of the diseases and pests that Brazil may harbor."
Along with U.S. cattle health, domestic markets could also take a hit.
Bullard explained that in early 2015 cattle prices were faltering and went into a complete free-fall following the US House of Representative repeal of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Following the repeal, then Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced that the U.S. would begin importing beef from Brazil. This added to the cattle market free-fall through 2016 where producers witnessed some of the lowest cattle prices in years.
The re-introduction of Brazilian beef into the U.S. largely depends on the results of the FSIS audit that President Trump has expediated.
Kent Bacus, Senior Director of International Trade for the National Cattleman's Beef Association stated that "We're not thrilled with the prospect of Brazil potentially sending beef to the United States, but we are grateful to see USDA's commitment to science-based trade by using an FSIS audit to review Brazil's food safety system. We expect this will be a much more rigorous and well-documented process than the approval process conducted by the previous Administration. Rest assured, NCBA will continue to monitor this process closely so that USDA takes all necessary steps to make sure Brazil meets an equivalent safety standard to the United States."