Brazilian Beef ‘Irregularities’ Trigger Halt in Exports to U.S.

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By Michael Kepp

Brazil has suspended exports of fresh beef to the U.S. from five slaughterhouses belonging to the country’s three biggest meat producers because of what the Agriculture Ministry called “irregularities” observed in the beef by U.S. authorities.

The ministry didn’t elaborate on the irregularities. However, a June 21 statement from the Brazilian Association of Beef Industry Exports (ABIEC) said the suspension occurred “after the detection of [bovine] reactions to the vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease, that in some cases can provoke internal, and not externally visible abscesses.”

ABIEC called the suspension “a temporary, preventative action to avoid problems on the US market.”

The ministry received an alert from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about the irregularities June 16 and suspended exports from the five slaughterhouses the same day, the ministry said in a statement. The suspension will last until “corrective measures are taken to normalize the situation,” the statement said.

The three meat companies whose U.S.-bound exports were suspended are JBS SA, the world’s biggest beef producer and exporter, along with Marfrig Global Foods SA and Minerva SA. The slaughterhouses affected were one of JBS’s in western Mato Grosso do Sul state, one of Minerva’s in central Goias state, and three of Marfrig’s—one each in Sao Paulo, Mato Grosso, and southern Rio Grande do Sul states.

A food-safety probe earlier this year into some of the biggest Brazilian meat companies, including JBS, prompted countries including China, Mexico, and South Africa to place restrictions on Brazilian beef. The U.S. wasn’t among those countries.

However, from 2003 until an accord was reached last year, the U.S. didn’t allow Brazilian beef because of occasional outbreaks—albeit rare—of foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals. In the 1990s, Brazil banned U.S. beef because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Last year’s deal between the U.S. and Brazil—signed Aug. 1—reopened two-way trade in beef. From September through December 2016, Brazil shipped $3.35 million worth of fresh beef to the U.S., and from January through March 2017 the figure was $19 million, according to Agriculture Ministry statistics. Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Kepp in Rio de Janeiro at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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