Brazil, U.S. beef trade agreement raises concern

Beef leaders question agency's animal health vetting process.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Aug. 1 that it reached an agreement with Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Food Supply to allow access for U.S. beef and beef products to the Brazilian market for the first time since 2003. Brazil's action reflects the U.S.'s negligible risk classification for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and aligns Brazil's regulations with OIE scientific international animal health guidelines.

"After many years of diligently working to regain access to the Brazilian market, the United States welcomes the news that Brazil has removed all barriers to U.S. beef and beef product exports," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "We are pleased that Brazil, a major agricultural producing and trading country, has aligned with science-based international standards, and we encourage other nations to do the same. Since last year alone, USDA has eliminated BSE-related restrictions in 16 countries, regaining market access for U.S. beef and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the American economy.

"The Brazilian market offers excellent long-term potential for U.S. beef exporters. The United States looks forward to providing Brazil's 200 million-plus consumers and growing middle class with high-quality American beef and beef products," Vilsack said.

Both countries will immediately begin updating their administrative procedures in order to allow trade to resume. U.S. companies will need to complete Brazil's regular facilities registration process.

In a separate decision, USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) also recently determined that Brazil's food safety system governing meat products remains equivalent to that of the U.S. and that fresh (chilled or frozen) beef can be safely imported from Brazil. Following a multiyear, science-based review consistent with U.S. food safety regulations for countries that export meat, poultry and egg products to the U.S., FSIS is amending the list of eligible countries and products authorized for export to the U.S. to allow fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Brazil.

Industry reacts

National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. president Tracy Brunner said the Administration’s decision to move forward on allowing fresh and frozen beef imports from Brazil “is of continued concern as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is still reviewing the methodology used during the decision-making process.”

He added, “Furthermore, USDA has failed to provide the detailed and documented science-based review of the risk evaluation protocols for determining an animal health status for countries — information requested by the U.S. beef industry and Congress last year in order to alleviate serious animal health concerns."

With so much at stake, Brunner said there is no reason USDA shouldn’t be forthcoming with information and willing to wait for the completion of the GAO audit.

“Most importantly, we need the U.S. government to take the proper precaution and ensure a robust foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccine bank,” he added. “The U.S. cattle herd has not been exposed to FMD since 1929, and the current lack of FMD preparedness could devastate our industry if our herd is exposed to the highly communicable disease. We cannot afford to jeopardize our nation’s livestock herds, which are the foundation of our global food supply, before all the possible risks to animal health and food safety have been properly addressed and precautions have been established.”

R-CALF USA chief executive officer Bill Bullard called the move a “political tit-for-tat that will expose U.S. consumers and the U.S. cattle herd to an unnecessary and avoidable risk of disease.”

Bullard said claims that the Brazilian market affords U.S. cattle producers with economic opportunities “would be laughable” if not for the significant risk associated with countries like Brazil that continue to battle FMD and other dangerous livestock diseases.

"Brazil lacks the resources and infrastructure to maintain health and safety standards that are at least equal to that of the United States," Bullard said. "That is why the USDA lowered the U.S. standard to that of mere equivalency, which essentially means ‘close enough.’”

Economic impact

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) told Feedstuffs that the potential for the U.S. to export beef and beef variety meats to Brazil will be fairly limited in the near term due, in part, to Brazil’s economic situation and the weak real. However, the group added that it foresees more significant medium-term opportunities for exports of high-quality U.S. middle meats and picanha for use in Brazil’s foodservice and high-end retail sectors.

“U.S. beef will be differentiated and marketed as a unique product in the upscale sectors of metropolitan areas such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil),” USMEF said.

There are also opportunities for U.S. liver exports, the group said, as beef livers are a popular item in Brazil and command relatively high prices. "The U.S. is the largest exporter of beef livers in the world and has been seeking to diversify its export outlets since Russia closed to U.S. beef in 2013,” USMEF added.

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