WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2017 - There’s still no end in sight for the U.S. ban on fresh Brazilian beef, but the two countries are making progress on reopening trade, U.S. government and industry officials tell Agri-Pulse.
Brazilian food safety officials and beef packers told the USDA that they have made significant changes in the way they prepare their beef to be shipped to the U.S., but U.S. officials are demanding proof.
USDA’s decision in June to ban imports of fresh beef from the South American country sparked new tensions between the nations and spurred a visit in July to Washington by Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, where he sat down with USDA Chief Sonny Perdue.
After that meeting, Perdue said the USDA was willing to work with the Brazilians, but he stressed he’d need to see proof that the safety conditions of the beef had improved.
That’s still the case, but USDA officials who are working with their Brazilian counterparts say progress is being made and the Brazilians are indeed working to address U.S. concerns.
“It’s not only an ongoing dialogue, it’s an active process for a solution,” U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Michael McKinley told Agri-Pulse. “I can’t give you a date on when this will be resolved, but I can tell you that real progress is being made and both sides are happy with the seriousness of the efforts to address the issue.”
Brazil has sent two technical delegations to Washington to meet with officials from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). And most recently, Perdue sent a team to Brazil in September that was led by FSIS Deputy Administrator Carmen Rottenberg.
Rottenberg, accompanied by three FSIS and two APHIS specialists (one was a USDA veterinarian stationed in Brazil), toured two Brazilian packing plants in Sao Paulo and sat down for lengthy talks with Brazilian government and industry officials during the Sept. 9–13 trip, according to USDA sources involved in the meetings.
The plants they visited are owned by JBS and Marfrig, two of the companies that were approved to export fresh beef to the U.S.
“A lot gets lost in translation with any country that’s seeking equivalency, so (Perdue) wanted to make sure that we were giving the Brazilians the technical assistance on how they needed to move forward,” one USDA official said. “We did make progress because I think there were a couple of misunderstandings that the Brazilians had … Through the technical discussions they have a better understanding of what USDA is expecting of them.”
Whether or not the Brazilians got the message and made the changes the USDA is asking for is still unclear, but may be answered soon.
“Brazil believes that they have put things in place to address the concerns we have and now they need to send us the (proof),” the USDA official said.
The Brazilian packers have a lot to answer for.
Rottenberg detailed the problems that led to the U.S. ban in a June 22 letter to Odilson Luiz Ribeiro e Silva, an undersecretary for Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture: “As FSIS indicated in previous letters, FSIS has observed repeated import violations such as abscesses, ingesta and unidentified foreign material of raw intact beef product from seven Brazilian establishments.”
Recent press reports out of Brazil have showcased claims by packers there that they have already made headway by getting cleared to export canned beef, but USDA officials confirmed that those highly-processed products were never banned.
Brazil is a major world power when it comes to beef production and exports, but sales to the U.S. have been low or nonexistent because of recent bans. It was just last year that the U.S. lifted its ban on fresh beef after the country finally convinced the U.S. that Brazil was effectively controlling outbreaks of foot and mouth disease.
Brazil shipped roughly 42 tons to the U.S. this year before the ban was put back in place in June, according to data in a report from USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service. Overall, Brazil is predicted to export 1.9 million tons next year, up from 1.8 million tons this year.
While the apparent progress being made to free up Brazil’s fresh beef exports may be good news for U.S. importers, U.S. cattle ranchers and beef producers remain concerned.
“When it comes to meat trade to the U.S., Brazil is a habitual bad actor,” said Jess Peterson, a spokesman for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “It doesn’t bode well for the trust factor between U.S. cattle producers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture when Brazilian meat product is signed off for export and the long list of infractions start piling up. Brazil has increased its exports to China and other Asian countries and has plenty of global demand for their product. Given those opportunities, and their lack of ability to meet the basic requirements to the U.S. market it would be a good decision for them to take a break from pursuing U.S. market access.”
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