WASHINGTON, May 4, 2017 - It took a little more than 13 years, but the U.S. is again exporting beef to Brazil after a prolonged ban that started when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first discovered in the U.S. in 2003.
That's welcome news to U.S. cattle ranchers and packers, but there is still some animosity in the industry about a recent decision by the U.S. to lift its ban on fresh and chilled beef from Brazil.
“The U.S. Cattlemen's Association is pleased with the market access, but remains extremely concerned about at-risk meat imports coming in from Brazil,” USCA spokesman Jess Peterson told Agri-Pulse. “USDA FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) is doing a good job of examining the imports coming in, however the point remains; Brazil is not a good actor overall when it comes to cattle production and beef trade.”
Brazil and the U.S. both officially announced last August that they were lifting the beef bans on each other. It was the culmination of years of discussions between the two countries and the Obama administration took some sharp criticism for the deal.
Just recently the U.S. and Brazil completed technical details of the protocols that U.S. beef producers and exporters must comply with to ship to the South American country.
The USDA first announced in 2013 that the two countries were working to simultaneously open up to each other’s beef.
“Both Brazil and the United States maintain a strong commitment to science-based rulemaking,” then-USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse said in a statement. “USDA and [Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply] recently agreed to a path forward to amend rules that currently limit bilateral beef trade. Bilateral trade of all beef and beef products could occur once each exporting country meets the importing country’s equivalence and technical requirements for animal health and food safety.”
But lawmakers and industry officials objected. Brazil has a long history of combating foot and mouth disease (FMD) in its livestock. It’s a particularly virulent disease that reduces the meat and milk an animal can produce and it hasn’t been present in the U.S. since 1929.
But FMD isn’t the only concern when it comes to Brazilian beef.
In March Brazil’s beef-processing industry was rocked by scandal. Federal police made arrests amid allegations that meatpackers had been bribing food safety inspectors to allow the sale and export of tainted product.
Lawmakers and some industry representatives in the U.S. called on USDA to block Brazilian beef, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the USDA announced it was adding stricter controls on imports. FSIS has also offered assurances hat no meat from production facilities involved in the investigation exported beef to the U.S.
Mike Young, acting deputy secretary and top USDA official at the time, said a ban was not needed and promised that none of the beef produced at facilities implicated in the scandal would make it into U.S. commerce.
“FSIS has strengthened the existing safeguards that protect the American food supply as a precaution and is monitoring the Brazilian government's investigation closely,” Young said in a March statement.
It’s unclear how big of a market Brazil will be for U.S. beef. The country is a major producer and exporter and recently pushed out Australia as the largest beef supplier to China.
But USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said today he is optimistic.
“With Brazil’s large market reopened to the United States, U.S. beef exports are poised for new growth,” Perdue said in a statement. “I look forward to Brazilians getting the opportunity to eat delicious American beef, because once they taste it, they’ll want more of it.”
Now most of Brazil’s beef imports come from Paraguay, according to USDA’ Foreign Agriculture Service. Brazil imports about $300 million worth of beef annually, but it may be difficult for the U.S. to get a major slice of that market. Unlike the South American suppliers, which are closer to Brazil, there is a 10 percent tariff on imports from the U.S.