By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Senior Editor, Farm World
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the suspension of all imports of fresh beef from Brazil on June 22, the Brazilian government has pledged to address U.S. inspectors’ concerns.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has inspected 100 percent of meat products arriving in the United States from Brazil since March. FSIS has refused entry to 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products. That figure is much higher than the rejection rate of 1 percent of shipments from the rest of the world.
Since the increased inspection started, FSIS has blocked entry to nearly 1.9 million pounds of Brazilian beef products due to public health concerns, unsanitary conditions and animal health issues.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Assoc. (USCA) said the high rejection rate should be a worry for all beef producers.
“USCA has remained adamantly opposed to imports of Brazilian beef products for this exact reason, and the actions taken (June 22) confirm the concerns held by producers regarding the many ‘bad acts’ by Brazil in the global trade arena,” said Trade Committee Chair Leo McDonnell.
The beef shipment suspension will remain until Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture corrects its inspection to satisfy the USDA. So far, the Brazilian government has suspended five facilities from shipping beef to the United States.
Perdue said it is important to note that none of the rejected beef entered the U.S. market. “Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness,” he explained. “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.”
Brazil’s ag ministry, in a press release last week, claimed the USDA questioned inconsistencies in Brazilian beef cuts and attributed that as reactions to vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease, which has been found in Colombia.
A technical mission from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture is coming to the United States in early July to discuss ending the suspension, said Luiz Eduardo Rangel, the Ministry of Agriculture’s secretary of defense. Brazil’s technical team is preparing a letter with responses to the USDA’s concerns.
After the technical mission returns, Brazil Ag Minister Blairo Maggi is planning to visit the United States to negotiate in person with Perdue. Rangel said the process to reverse the U.S. government’s decision could take at least one month.
“The potential harm to U.S. cattle producers and the U.S. food supply, caused by any food safety violations as reported, warrant a critical review by USDA into the Brazil system and standards,” USCA’s McDonnell said.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. (NCBA) President Craig Uden echoed USCA’s support of USDA’s decision.
“This action is the result of USDA’s strong, science-based testing protocol of imported beef, and this proves that our food safety system works effectively,” he said. “NCBA supports USDA’s commitment to science-based trade and its commitment to keeping our food supply as safe as possible.”
The USCA added that country-oforigin labeling (COOL) would help alleviate these issues. “The absence of origin labeling only serves to increase the concerns by U.S. cattle producers and consumers when such safety violations are reported,” McDonnell said.
Left-wing food safety watchdog Food & Water Watch (FWW) said USDA’s action was overdue. “Three months after allegations surfaced that Brazilian meat exporters bribed inspectors to approve tainted beef for sale and export, USDA is finally halting meat shipments from Brazil,” said FWW Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The question is, why did it take so long?
“Brazil has a checkered history when it comes to food safety, and the latest revelations of corruption – bribery, using chemicals to cover up rotten meat, sending salmonella-contaminated meat to Europe and falsifying health certificates – raise questions about its meat exports and its equivalency system.”