Brazil's BSE Fallout

Pressure to Stop Importing Brazilian Beef After Mad Cow Case Confirmed

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association called on USDA to immediately stop allowing Brazilian beef into the U.S. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo for purposes of illustration only)

More than a month passed before Brazilian authorities reported a case of mad cow disease, more properly known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The 35-day delay was called "unacceptable" by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), and "in clear violation of WOAH (World Organisation for Animal Health) requirements." The WOAH is an intergovernmental group charged with supporting and promoting animal disease control on a global level.

DTN reported earlier that BSE was confirmed in the state of Para. The Ministry of Agriculture identified the infected animal as a 9-year-old male in a 160-head herd. Samples from the sick animal were sent to a World Health Organization for Animal Health Lab in Canada to find out if the animal had a classic form of BSE or an atypical variation. The atypical form is more common in older animals and is considered to be lower risk.

NCBA President and South Dakota cattleman Todd Wilkinson said in a statement that Brazil has repeatedly failed to meet the 24-hour requirement in place to report animal diseases under WOAH.

"In order to protect the safety and security of the U.S. herd, and American cattle producers, we demand USDA take immediate steps to block further beef imports from Brazil," he said. "Furthermore, we expect USDA to keep the border closed to Brazil until they can demonstrate that they are willing and able to play by the trade rules that govern all other nations. If they can't play by the rules, they don't deserve access. (U.S. Ag) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack needs to act now, rather than kicking the can down the road."

On Feb. 27, 2023, NCBA sent a letter to USDA demanding immediate action and supports bipartisan Senate legislation to suspend Brazilian beef imports pending a review of Brazil's standards.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, publicly called on the Biden administration to halt imports of Brazilian beef after the finding of BSE. He stressed it is fully within the president's power to ban imports from other countries without waiting for Congressional action.

In his statement, Daines said: "On behalf of Montana's ranchers and in the interest of the safety of our herds and food supply, I am furious that the Biden administration has not halted beef imports from Brazil when they know Brazil continues to find cases of mad cow disease (BSE) in its herds. This is something the president can and should take action on today."

Last year, imports of Brazilian beef/veal to the U.S. surged, reaching 466.371 million pounds (carcass weight), a significant increase from 2021 when the import level was reported by USDA at 368.956 million pounds (carcass weight). Those numbers were reported by USDA.

The U.S. isn't the only country reacting in this way to this most recent finding of BSE in Brazil. Beef exports to Brazil's largest buyer, China, were set to be halted March 2, 2023, after confirmation of the disease. This is a major economic blow, as China is currently the largest export destination for Brazil's beef.

This is not the first time a case of BSE has halted exports from Brazil to China. In 2021, two confirmed cases halted exports, each lasting around three months.

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Victoria Myers