All imports of fresh beef from Brazil have been halted because of recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Thursday.
The suspension of shipments will remain in place until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action which the USDA finds satisfactory.
The action comes three months after a major scandal erupted in Brazil over allegedly corrupt inspectors at slaughter and processing facilities. Brazilian officials said then that meat companies paid inspectors to overlook violations and certify tainted or rotten meat or not make inspections at all.
However, before the crackdown, rotten meat was distributed in Brazil and exported to Europe.
Since March, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has been inspecting 100 percent of all meat products arriving in the United States from Brazil. FSIS has refused entry to 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products.
That figure is substantially higher than the rejection rate of one percent of shipments from the rest of the world. Since the implementation of the increased inspection, FSIS has refused entry to 106 lots (approximately 1.9 million pounds) of Brazilian beef products due to public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues. It is important to note that none of the rejected lots made it into the U.S. market.
The Brazilian government had pledged to address those concerns, including by self-suspending five facilities from shipping beef to the United States. Today’s action to suspend all fresh beef shipments from Brazil supersedes the self-suspension.
Secretary Perdue issued the following statement:
“Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness. Although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers. That’s what we’ve done by halting the import of Brazilian fresh beef. I commend the work of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for painstakingly safeguarding the food we serve our families.”
The U.S. is not a major importer of beef from Brazil because the U.S. produces more beef and veal than Brazil does. This year, U.S. beef and veal production are expected to grow 5 percent to more than 12 million tons, reaching a nine-year high, according to USDA reports.
In 2016, the U.S. exported $6.3 billion in beef and beef products globally. The major importers of beef to the U.S. are Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico, with Brazil ranking fifth.
In May, Brazil re-opened its doors to U.S. fresh beef exports after a 13-year hiatus, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service reported.
In 2003, Brazil closed its market fresh beef imports from the U.S. over concerns about bone spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Farmers Union applauded the decision to suspend the importation of Brazilian beef and said it has long had concerns about the importation of fresh beef from Brazil.
“Since the 2015 repeal of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), food safety scandals can undermine consumer confidence in the entire beef industry, harming American producers’ bottom line. This incident underscores the importance of COOL to protect American beef producers and consumers alike,” NFU officials said in a statement.
Monday, several cattle-ranching groups sued the USDA in Spokane, asking that it overturn its decision to not require country-of-origin labeling on meat imports. Without the labeling, imported meat can be sold as a U.S. product.