U.S. cattlemen criticize USDA for timing of Brazil beef audit

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 - The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is criticizing the USDA for failing to release a critical audit on Brazil's meat inspection system before the comment period closed on a department proposal to allow the importation of fresh and frozen beef from 14 Brazilian states.

The NCBA asked USDA to extend the comment period, which closed April 22, to allow for a thorough review of the implications of the proposed rule. The group says there is concern about whether Brazil is ready to put in place the protocols to ensure highly contagious food-and-mouth disease (FMD) isn't introduced into U.S. herds. NCBA says an outbreak “could ultimately threaten the entire U.S. economy.”

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The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) conducted an onsite audit in Brazil from Feb. 19 through March 14, 2013, and its report is dated April 16, 2014.

“NCBA is extremely disappointed this final audit report was not released in time for a full review, prior to the comment deadline on the proposed rule,” NCBA President Bob McCan said Tuesday. “This report was available prior to the comment deadline, but the failure by FSIS to provide it, shows a complete lack of preparation of the documents the U.S. cattle industry would need in order to make informed and meaningful comments.”

The audit is designed to determine the equivalence of Brazil's meat inspection system to that of the U.S. According to NCBA, the audit found that the program did not provide a standard guideline for Brazil's inspection personnel concerning the definition of Specified Risk Materials (SRMs) in cattle in accordance with FSIS' requirements.

Among other shortcomings, the review found that Brazil's inspection personnel did not fully enforce sanitation requirements to prevent cross-contamination of bovine carcasses in one establishment, NCBA said. For those and other reasons, the report stated that “until Brazil has satisfactorily addressed these issues, FSIS will not certify any new establishments as eligible to export to the United States.”

“This audit report confirms many of the compliance concerns that NCBA recently expressed in our comments on behalf of our members,” said Dr. Kathy Simmons, NCBA chief veterinarian. “Our members have significant concerns with Brazil's ability and willingness to meet established compliance requirements. Most alarming to me is the inconsistent application and implementation of Specified Risk Material requirements throughout the system and a history of unresolved drug residue violations.”

Foot and mouth disease, while not a food safety concern, permanently affects the health and productivity of infected cattle by inhibiting the animals' ability to eat. Nearly 100 percent of animals exposed become infected. To stop its spread, animals must be quarantined and euthanized.

The FMD virus can be transmitted by close-contact animal-to-animal spread, long-distance aerosol spread and fomites, or inanimate objects, typically fodder and motor vehicles. The clothes and skin of animal handlers, such as farmers, standing water, and uncooked food scraps and feed supplements containing infected animal products can harbor the virus, as well. Control measures include export bans for meat and other animal products to countries not infected with the disease. Humans can contract the disease but infections are extremely rare.

“There is no question that FMD is a pretty devastating disease. It is very contagious,” explained USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber during a Q & A session with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Tuesday. “The issue, though, is what is the risk of importation from Brazil. You can't just say we don't want it. You have to have a scientific basis for the decision.”

The last FMD outbreak in the U.S. was in 1929, in Montebello, California. To see NCBA's comments on the proposed rule click here.

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