United States Senator for the cattle breeding state of Montana, Jon Tester has presented a bill to suspend beef imports from Brazil. The congressman alleges that the Brazilian authorities were slow to notify the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) about the two cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, confirmed in September, and which led to an agreed ban con beef exports to China.
Senator Tester argues Brazil took much longer to inform the OIE (UN Animal health organization) about the cases than other countries that faced a similar problem. “On 3 September 2021, Brazil announced two cases of atypical BSE detected in June of the same year. Most countries report similar cases immediately. This year, the United Kingdom and Germany reported cases a few days after their occurrence,” he said in a statement to the upper House.
The senator alleges that the delay generated a “breach of confidence”. “This has been a routine occurrence. Brazil also waited months or even years to report similar cases in 2019, 2014, and 2012 ”, he added.
Following on this argument, Senator Tester calls in his bill for an embargo on imports until specialists can conduct a “systematic review of product safety”. It is worth remembering that after notification to OIE, last September, the agency concluded a few days later that the risk of contamination of the Brazilian herd was “insignificant” since they were atypical cases.
“While rare and unique cases of atypical BSE do not necessarily indicate systemic problems with the health of the Brazilian cattle herd, repeated delays in reporting suggest an excessively lax food safety regime and raise concerns about reporting additional dangerous diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, and avian flu,” Tester concluded.
Similar arguments criticizing Brazil's poor, when not deficient, overall food safety rules and conditions have been exposed by several European countries, France, Belgium, Ireland, to avoid ratifying the EU/Mercosur trade agreement which is still pending after over two decades of negotiations.
Likewise, Brazilian meatpackers shut out of the Chinese beef market are finding some relief at U.S. butcher counters. In effect exports of Brazilian beef to the U.S. soared 183% during the first 10 months of this year, according to Brazilian Customs Office figures. Such shipments have been rising for months and the trend intensified after China restricted imports of Brazilian beef in early September due to two “atypical” cases of mad-cow disease.
While the amount sent to the U.S. is so far a fraction of the gigantic volumes China normally orders, major Brazilian exporters are pointing to the US as the main alternative market. Consumption in Brazil is weak amid economic distress, while other major meat importers such as Japan and South Korea still aren’t letting in Brazilian beef.
Brazilian farmers are also complaining that cattle prices have plummeted since the agreed protocol ban of beef sales to China which have yet to resume.
“The US reopening allowed us to ship volumes that would go to China,” Edison Ticle, chief financial officer at meats group Minerva S.A. Similarly Marfrig Global Foods, the world's largest protein processor and which controls US-based National Beef, said sales to the United States are rising and there is more to come.
The US reopened to Brazilian beef in 2020 after a ban of more than two years. Senator Tester in 2018 was re-elected for a third six-year term and is a Democrat in Republican territory. He is a strong supporter of rural US small businesses.