Beef from Brazil to soon arrive in United States
Several news sources recently reported that two Brazilian meat companies have sent fresh beef to the United States.
According to Reuters News Service, Brazilian meatpacker Marfrig Global Foods SA announced in mid-September that it had shipped its first cargo of fresh beef to the United States.
JBS SA, whose U.S. branch, JBS, is one of the largest meatpackers in this country, sent a container of beef to the United States the next day, according to the Reuters story.
The United States had banned fresh beef from Brazil since 1999 until August 1 of this year when the USDA announced that its Food Safety and Inspection Service had approved a rule to allow Brazil to ship 64,800 tonnes of fresh beef per year to the U.S. duty free. In return, the U.S. can export beef and beef products to that country.
A JBS spokesman said in the Reuters story that even when the duty-free limit is reached, the company will still profit from beef exports to the United States.
“When the quota is over, deals will still be made on a regular basis,” Miguel Gularte said. He then explained that prices might need to be adjusted to account for the 26.4 percent tax to be charged.
“The official, who is in charge of meatpacker JBS SA’s division for the trade bloc formed by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, believes the United States will be among the five key markets for Brazilian fresh beef as soon as 2017,” the story reported.
USDA FSIS did not confirm or deny the arrival of Brazilian fresh beef.
“Upon arrival, imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products are required to undergo FSIS re-inspection at U.S. ports-of-entry to check for proper certification, labeling, transportation damage, and general condition.
“Selected shipments will be subject to additional re-inspection procedures, including examinations for product defects and laboratory analyses to detect harmful chemical residues or pathogen testing appropriate for the products.
“FSIS requires importers to submit an application for inspection, which includes information about the product establishment destination and the estimated date that the product will be presented. FSIS tracks these shipments in our Public Health Information System (PHIS) to ensure shipments are presented for required inspection,” according to the FSIS.
USDA Public Affairs Specialist Julie Schwartz said a Freedom of Information Act request is required to track specific products in the PHIS system.
JBS, Minerva and Marfrig are on the list of eligible plants certified to export meat from Brazil to the United States, Schwartz said.
According to USDA, Brazil is home to almost three times as many cattle as the United States, and has about two-thirds the number of people as the U.S.
The three main cattle organizations in the United States, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund-United Stockgrowers of America and the United States Cattlemen’s Association have all voiced opposition to the rule to allow fresh beef from Brazil, citing serious concern over Foot and Mouth Disease.
USDA FSIS and the World Organization for Animal Health consider much of Brazil “Foot and Mouth Disease free with vaccination.” Some regions in Brazil are not FMD free.
While USDA FSIS reported that on site visits concluded that Brazil’s meat safety protocols are equivalent to those in this country, cattlemen are skeptical.
Bryan Hanson, the president of R-CALF USA and co-owner of Ft. Pierre Livestock Auction worries that even if some Brazilian regions have mitigated FMD problems, cattle will travel between territories and bring disease with them.
“There are no checkpoints between Brazilian states, it is as simple as moving between North Dakota and South Dakota. If the market is better in an FMD-free region or state, I guarantee cattle will be moving there to sell,” he said.
NCBA is also worried about the regionalization strategy.
“Regionalization on highly communicable animal diseases is possible if appropriate and extremely rigorous firewalls are put in place…the risk to U.S. animal agriculture and to our cattle producers is far too great and the economic and animal health consequences too significant to move forward with this proposed rule without better establishing that an attitude of compliance and a sufficiently sophisticated infrastructure are present in Brazil to consistently perform all risk mitigation measures. Additional questions need to be answered and additional work needs to be done by APHIS to secure the necessary information to make responsible decisions that will safeguard the health and well-being of livestock in the United States,” they group commented in April.
On August 4, Montana Senator Jon Tester sent a letter asking U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack these questions:
What steps has USDA taken to implement the recommendations the Government Accountability Office made for improving the emergency response to an animal disease outbreak?
What steps did the FSIS take to ensure the Brazilian facilities are equivalent in nature to American facilities?
What process will be in place to verify ongoing compliance?
Is FSIS considering using third party verification?
What processes will be implemented to track the movement Brazilian beef imports once they enter the US market?
How will USDA make sure retailers are able to access the necessary information to voluntarily label beef products’ country of origin?”
As of Oct. 7, Secretary Vilsack had not responded to the letter.
Leo McDonnell, Director Emeritus, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, is also concerned about compliance and integrity in regard to Brazil’s meat packing industry. “The problem is that too often Brazil adheres to a ‘do as I say- not as I do’ type of policy. Brazil has a lengthy history of WTO violations that continue to undercut all sectors of U.S. production agriculture. Despite this, Brazil is the first to leverage the WTO when it works in their favor,” said McDonnell.
Kansas State University professor of epidemiology and beef production Michael Sanderson has helped develop the Secure Beef Supply Plan, a strategy to deal with FMD if or when it enters U.S. soil.
Sanderson said the chance that FMD will travel on Brazilian beef and infect US animals is not high.
“The likelihood is low, but it is difficult to say just how low. I am not aware of any data that indicates one company is more of a problem than another,” he said.
Cattle producers should maintain prudent animal health management practices.
The arrival of Brazilian fresh beef “hasn’t changed the risk of FMD that much,” he said.
“General good biosecurity practices are wise and have benefits for a number of other disease as well. Keeping good records of sources of cattle bought and destination of cattle sold will be very valuable should we have an outbreak. Everyone having a premises ID and being able to trace the incoming and outgoing cattle would be very beneficial in controlling an outbreak,” he said. “Good health records of sickness and promptly calling your veterinarian for unusual signs will help to identify an outbreak early (which is very important for getting it stopped as quickly as possible). The level of biosecurity that will be needed in an FMD outbreak are not economical, practical or necessary right now with or without Brazilian beef.”
Besides the disease risk, Hanson believes market sentiment has been affected by the Brazilian beef import agreement.
“Just the announcement of the Brazilian Beef coming in, I think has had a lot to do with the CME board dropping continually over the last four to six weeks,” he said. “You couple that with the 2015 spending bill that included a repeal of COOL, it’s basically been on a snowball, downward trend.” ❖