Two powerful Democrats, one from the House and the other from the Senate, want to suspend Brazil beef exports to the USA and are willing to make it happen with legislation.

And while it seems long ago, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last targeted on-site equivalence verification audit of Brazil from Jan. 13 through Jan. 24, 2020.  The final audit report, certifying that Brazil’s beef is as safe as America’s, became public on Feb. 20, 2020.

However, support for suspending Brazilian beef exports led by American beef producers is on the rise.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, are supporting the suspension with legislation.

Tester, the only farmer in the U.S. Senate, wants a study of safety risks involving Brazilian beef following what he calls “repeated reporting issues” involving delayed reporting of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, in Brazilian beef.

Tester wants a suspension on Brazilian beef imports to the United States “until experts can conduct a systematic review of the commodity’s safety.”

“Montanans demand the highest level of safety and certainty in their beef, and Brazilian imports aren’t making the cut,” said Tester.

“Folks expect their beef to have been rigorously tested against the strictest of standards, and concerns about Brazilian imports not only jeopardize consumer trust, but present a serious risk to Montana producers. 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.”

On Sept. 3 this year, Brazil announced two cases of atypical BSE that were detected in June. Most countries report similar cases to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) immediately – with both the United Kingdom and Germany this year reporting cases to OIE within days of their occurrence earlier this year – but Brazil reported its cases more than 2 months after the fact, breaking trust with the OIE and global trading partners. This has been a routine occurrence, with Brazil also waiting months or even years to report similar cases in 2019, 2014 and 2012.

Brazil enjoys preferential market access on the global stage due to its designation as a “negligible risk” exporter by OIE. While rare, one-off instances of atypical BSE do not necessarily indicate systemic issues with the health of Brazilian cattle herds, repeated delays in reporting suggest an overly lax food safety regime and raise concerns about the reporting of additional dangerous diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever, and Avian Influenza.

Tester’s bill would ensure that Brazilian beef is safe to eat before it is brought back into U.S. markets by imposing a moratorium on Brazilian beef until a group of food safety and trade experts has made a recommendation regarding its import status. The legislation is supported by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and R-CALF USA.

“We cannot wait for an endemic animal disease to reach our borders before we take action,” said Leo McDonnell, director emeritus, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

“There is a clear and present threat associated with the importation of Brazilian beef imports that we need to halt immediately. Further, the establishment of a working group will allow all stakeholders of the U.S. beef and cattle industries to have a voice in evaluating the threat to American producers and consumers posed by beef and beef products imported from Brazil. USCA thanks Senator Tester for his ongoing efforts to suspend beef trade with countries that pose a risk to the health of the domestic cattle herd.”

Ethan Lane of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, has similar views.

“U.S. cattle producers have a longstanding track record of meeting USDA’s rigorous oversight standards in order to promote public health, food safety, animal health and well-being – and any country who wishes to trade with the United States must be held to those same standards,” said Lane. “We appreciate Senator Tester’s leadership on this important issue and look forward to working with him and this Administration to hold Brazil accountable.”

Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA said: “R-CALF USA greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s leadership in protecting both the U.S. food supply and the U.S. cattle industry from the possible introduction of beef from a country with a long history of food safety infractions.”

DeLauro, the powerful chair of the House Appropriations Committee,  sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to immediately suspend all imports of beef from Brazil after the country failed to promptly report cases of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy earlier this summer.

“I write urging you to use your authority to halt imports of beef from Brazil into the United States immediately,” wrote Congresswoman DeLauro. “The decision by Brazilian officials to hide the country’s June 2021 cases of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy for months was reckless and appalling. Actions such as these threaten international efforts to combat outbreaks of animal diseases around the globe.”

“At the same time, we have known for years the underlying structural problems with Brazil’s meat inspection system,” continued Congresswoman DeLauro. “We should act before a crisis occurs in order to protect American consumers, their families, and the farmers and ranchers of this country. This issue is made worse by our lack of mandatory country of origin labeling. Families are left without an option to tell where their beef comes from, and farmers and ranchers are forced to compete against beef imported from a country that refuses to play by the rules.”

In March of 2017, DeLauro also urged USDA to suspend beef imports from Brazil following a two-year Brazilian federal police investigation into the country’s corrupt meat and poultry industry. Later that year, she called on USDA to conduct a full and thorough review of Brazil’s meat inspection systems before allowing further imports of Brazilian beef.

DeLauro’s full letter can be found here.

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