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American beef producers want to stop all fresh beef from Brazil

American cattle producers who don’t often agree on much are collectively calling for the immediate suspension of all imports of fresh beef from Brazil to the United States. They claim Brazil, one of the world’s largest beef exporters, is putting American consumers at risk.

The Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Billings, MT-based R-CALF USA both want Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to immediately suspend all imports of fresh beef from Brazil to the United States.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last suspended the export of raw intact beef from Brazil in 2017. On Feb. 21, 2020, the suspension ended.  

Brazil is subject to re-inspection at U.S. ports of entry by FSIS import inspectors as is required with meat, poultry, and processed egg products from other countries.

In its Nov. 12 letter to Vilsack, NCBA asked for a new suspension until USDA conducts a thorough risk assessment and review of the processes that Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply (MAPA) uses to detect disease and other threats to consumers. 

NCBA also urged the USDA to review Brazil’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory system.

“It’s time to keep fresh Brazilian beef out of this country until USDA can confirm that Brazil meets the same consumer and food safety standards that we apply to all our trade partners,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane.

“NCBA has long expressed concerns about Brazil’s history of failing to report atypical BSE cases in a timely manner, a pattern that stretches back as far as 2012. Their poor track record and lack of transparency raise serious doubts about Brazil’s ability to produce cattle and beef at an equivalent level of safety as American producers. If they cannot meet that bar, their product has no place here,” added Lane.

According to reports published by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Brazil took more than eight weeks to report two confirmed cases of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The OIE requires countries to report within 24 hours for any animal disease event that could be of international concern for public health emergencies.

After the market devastation of 2003, American cattle producers have worked diligently to protect consumers and restore confidence both at home and abroad. Farmers and ranchers benefit greatly from the demand for beef that is built upon a commitment to integrity, transparency, and the highest scientific standards.

The consumer trust that our producers have worked so hard to build must not be jeopardized by any country that seeks to cut corners or conceal the truth about food safety concerns, according to the American beef producers. Brazilian beef companies must prove that they are worthy of access to American consumers. 

R-CALF USA followed with a Nov. 15 letter to Vilsack stating it agreed with NCBA’s call for the suspension of all imports of fresh beef from Brazil to the United States. 

R-CALF USA’s letter indicates it shares the concerns raised by the NCBA regarding Brazil’s repeated failures to provide timely notice regarding outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in 2012, 2014, 2019, and this year.

However, unlike the NCBA’s request for a suspension that only applies to fresh beef, R-CALF USA’s request is more expansive, seeking an immediate suspension of imports of all beef products, both fresh and pre-cooked, pending a U.S. investigation into Brazil’s food safety system and its veterinary diagnostic laboratory system.

The ranch group says a more expansive suspension is needed because beef-related heat processes are not capable of inactivating the BSE prion. It is Brazil’s non-compliance with BSE reporting requirements that prompted the suspension request. R-CALF USA’s letter states, “all imports of all beef potentially subject to BSE contamination must be suspended.”

The ranch group points out that Brazil’s trail of reporting violations reveals that government-led sanctions have not worked to change Brazil’s practices. It then suggests that Vilsack should help Congress pass the recently introduced mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for the beef bill (S.2716), which it states will provide a market-based approach to enforcement that may be more effective in forcing Brazil into compliance.

Empowering consumers to choose if they wish to purchase products from countries such as Brazil that attempt to circumvent U.S. food safety expectations, or from countries that engage in the deforestation of the world’s rain forests will only be possible when S.2716 is enacted, the ranch group asserts.

The MCOOL bill will “empower consumers to exercise a market-based approach to ensuring that foreign beef is produced under the same high standards as required in the United States and expected by United States consumers,” the letter states.

The two beef organizations are often opposed to one another on the issues. NCBA represents the broader industry, from the ranch to major beef brands, and R-CALF is a producer-only organization.