A US Senator has introduced a bill to halt the importation of Brazilian beef as concerns mount over Brazil’s handling of two outbreaks of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) — commonly known as mad cow disease.

Key points:

  • A US Senator has introduced a bill to ban imports of Brazilian beef into America
  • Brazil has been criticised for its delayed reporting of two cases of mad cow disease
  • Australian cattle producers, enjoying record high prices, should expect global demand to stay strong

The international beef trade was made aware of Brazil’s BSE cases in early September, but it has since been revealed that Brazilian authorities were aware of the outbreak in June.

The US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is not impressed and has called on US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to immediately halt imports of Brazilian beef.

“It’s time to keep Brazilian fresh beef out of this country until USDA can confirm that Brazil meets the same consumer and food safety standards that we apply to all our trade partners,” said NCBA’s Ethan Lane.

“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.”

Brazilian beef cattle

Serious questions being asked about Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of beef.(Commons)

The concerns of groups such as NCBA have now been aided by US Senator for Montana Jon Tester, who has introduced legislation to enforce a ban on Brazilian beef.

“Concerns about Brazilian beef imports not only jeopardise consumer trust but present a serious risk to Montana producers,” wrote the Senator on his Facebook page.

How long will America accept the beef that China rejects?

When the BSE cases in Brazil became public in September the Brazilian government enforced a suspension of beef exports to China — its biggest customer.

But as the months rolled on it was soon China calling the shots, enforcing a ban on Brazilian beef.

Global AgriTrends meat analyst Simon Quilty said data suggested Brazil tried to export record amounts of beef into China before reporting the BSE cases to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“We saw two record shipment months out of Brazil into all markets, but in particular China,” he said. 

Cows stand in paddock, surrounded by a haze of smoke.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef and China is the world’s largest importer of beef. The two nations are currently not trading.(Reuters: Bruno Kelly)

“We understand up to 4,000 containers [of beef] were sitting on the wharves in China, unable to enter … and only as of today, China Customs has accepted [some] Brazilian beef products with health certificates dated before September 4.

“In the meantime, certain vessels with meat on board have returned to Brazil and there are reports of other vessels going to other destinations to find new homes for that meat.”

Mr Quilty said with Brazil facing trade restrictions its monthly slaughter rate had now dipped to a 17-year low, adding pressure to global beef supplies which were already extremely tight.

He said Australian cattle producers, enjoying record high prices, should expect global demand to stay strong next year.

What happens if the US bans Brazilian beef?

Mr Quilty said it was not surprising to hear that American cattle producers are calling for a ban on Brazilian beef.

“The fact that China is still not accepting any new [beef] products from Brazil probably gives a lot more credence to this desire to have a ban put in place in North America,” he said.

A block of frozen beef pieces sits on a tiled surface

If the US bans Brazilian beef, will other countries follow?(Supplied)

He said if the US does ban Brazilian beef it would have huge ramifications for the global beef trade.

“The impact is not so much America no longer importing 60,000 tonnes [of beef] from Brazil, but it’s the signal that an American ban would give to the rest of the world,” Mr Quilty said.

“If the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says we don’t want your meat and we want to investigate your systems, I think we’ll see a number of other countries around the world ban Brazilian beef also.”

The Brazilian Beef Exporters Association has been contacted for comment.

How long will America accept the beef that China rejects?
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