U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a bill to suspend the importation of Brazilian beef into the U.S. until experts can conduct a systematic review of the safety of that nation's beef.
The legislation follows repeated problems with delayed reporting of bovine spongiform encephalopathy — known as mad cow disease — in Brazilian beef.
On Sept. 3 Brazil announced two cases of atypical BSE that were detected in June. Most countries immediately report such cases to the World Organization of Animal Health. But Brazil reported its cases more than two months after detection, breaking trust with OIE and global trading partners, according to Tester’s office.
This has been a routine occurrence, with Brazil also waiting months or even years to report similar cases in 2012, 2014 and 2019.
Repeated delays in reporting suggest an overly lax food-safety regime and raises concerns about the reporting of additional dangerous diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever and avian influenza, according to Tester’s office.
Concerns about Brazilian beef not only jeopardize consumer trust but present a serious risk to U.S. cattle producers, the Montana Democrat said.
“We owe it to our domestic producers and consumers to halt Brazilian imports until we can guarantee their beef and reporting standards are making the grade,” he said.
Tester’s bill, S.3230, is supported by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and R-CALF USA, which have filed formal requests to USDA to immediately suspend imports of Brazilian beef.
"NCBA has long expressed concerns about Brazil's history of failing to report atypical BSE cases in a timely manner, a pattern that stretches back as far as 2012,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs.
“Their poor track record and lack of transparency raises serious doubts about Brazil's ability to produce cattle and beef at an equivalent level of safety as American producers. If they cannot meet that bar, their product has no place here," he said.
R-CALF pointed out Brazil’s history of other serious beef safety infractions, including the widely reported beef export scandal in early 2017 in which Brazil was found to be exporting rotten and tainted beef. That led to USDA’s suspension of imports of fresh beef from Brazil but not until several months after the scandal was disclosed.
“What’s been clear in our years-long relationship with Brazil is that its government cannot be trusted to comply with United States’ beef import requirements,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO.
“What is equally clear is that our agriculture secretaries are slow to respond, and may only partially respond, to known food-safety threats,” he said.
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said it is concerned there are more BSE cases waiting to be discovered.
“Put simply, Brazil is a bad actor in the global marketplace,” said Larry Kendig, USCA trade committee chairman.
“The country has a history of corruption at the highest levels, and we are gambling with the health of the domestic cattle herd each time we accept a shipment of beef from Brazil," he said.