The USDA on Friday lifted its ban on imports of Brazilian beef, saying the country has implemented corrective actions and its food-safety inspection system for beef is equivalent to that of the U.S.
Beef imports from Brazil were suspended in June 2017 following a trend of food-safety violations and animal-health concerns, USDA stated.
However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has serious concerns about the re-entry of Brazilian beef in the U.S. market, said Kent Bacus, NCBA senior director of international trade and market access.
NCBA doesn’t doubt the thoroughness of USDA’s audit process, but Brazil has a history of not living up to the expectations and standards of the U.S, he said.
When USDA restored access for Brazilian beef in 2016, the country only had access for six months before USDA suspended its eligibility. During that six months, 11% of its product was rejected at ports-of-entry, he said.
“It wasn’t just one or two shipments, this was a systemic issue,” he said.
More than 2 million pounds of raw beef product was denied entry due to pathology defects and prohibited tissue, including blood clots, bones and lymphatic tissue, USDA reported.
Hopefully, Brazil has learned its lesson, he said, but time will tell, and NCBA will urge the U.S government to continue to closely scrutinize Brazil, he said.
“Our doubts are not with the U.S. government; our concerns are that Brazil doesn’t have a track record for meeting our standards,” he said.
NCBA has closely followed the process. It doesn’t want any concerns over the safety of beef in the market or the U.S. government’s ability to enforce strong food-safety and animal-health standards, he said.
Any compromise on safety in the beef market hurts U.S. producers, he said.
“You can rest assured we’re going to keep a very, very close eye on everything developing out of Brazil,” he said.
R-CALF USA has several concerns about re-opening the U.S. market to Brazilian beef, said Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s CEO.
The top concern is that the most contagious disease to cloven-hoofed animals — foot-and-mouth disease — is endemic in Brazil. It can be transmitted through fresh beef and pork, and imports of Brazilian beef increase the risk of its introduction into the U.S., he said.
In addition, Brazil is a known bad actor with a long history of corruption — including bribing food inspectors and exporting tainted beef, he said.
“There is no scientific basis for the secretary of agriculture to conclude Brazil won’t do it again,” he said.
USDA only reviewed a handful of Brazil’s eligible meatpacking plants, and its audit was seriously lacking, he said.
“It was only a cursory audit, and the U.S. has accorded far more deference to Brazil than it is deserving of,” he said.
There is also the issue of unfair trade because the U.S. doesn’t require foreign beef to retain its foreign label. Processors can bring in cheaper beef from Brazil and sell it with a USDA sticker, he said.
“At the very least before any Brazilian beef enters the U.S., Congress must fully restore country-of-origin labeling so (U.S.) producers can compete and consumers can choose,” he said.