June 21, 2024

USDA Stops Imports of Brazilian Beef

The USDA is halting imports of Brazilian beef, according to a press release from that government agency. There are “recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market,” according to the release. Brazil is one of the world’s largest beef importers, and is the fifth largest beef supplier to the United States.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel have been inspecting all, or 100%, of meat products imported from Brazil into the United States since this spring. FSIS has refused about 11% of those imports; that number is much higher than the typical rejection rate of 1% of all food shipments from the rest of the world.

FSIS has refused entry to 106 lots, about 1.9 million pounds, of Brazilian beef products for public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues. The release states that “none of the rejected lots made it into the U.S. market.”

The Brazilian government was supposed to address those concerns. They self-suspended five facilities from shipping beef to America. This action today supersedes the self-suspension. China, Mexico, Japan, the EU, Hong Kong, Egypt, Switzerland, Canada, and Chile stopped imports of Brazilian beef this spring when an investigation into meat inspectors in that country was publicized.

In Brazil, a scandal named “Carne Fraca,” (weak meat) erupted earlier this year. Inspectors at a Brazilian exporter allegedly let meat tainted with Salmonella bacteria and spoiled meat sold. That facility was accused of trying to cover up the rotten meat’s odor by using water and manioc flour. Investigators say that health inspectors at that plant were bribed to allow these sales.

Brazilian Association of Beef Industry has claimed that corrective actions have been taken. One of the problems with this meat being sold into the United States is that we have no “country of origin” labeling on products. American consumers have no way of knowing where their beef comes from.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch said in a statement, “Three months after allegations surfaced that Brazilian meat exporters bribed inspectors to approve tainted beef for sale and export, USDA is finally halting meat shipments from Brazil. The question is, why did it take so long?

“Brazil has a checkered history when it comes to food safety, and the latest revelations of corruption—bribery, using chemicals to cover up rotten meat, sending salmonella-contaminated meat to Europe and falsifying health certificates—raise questions about its meat exports and its equivalency system.

“What has happened recently in Brazil is not new. In 2005, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) conduced five equivalency audits in Brazil. One of these audits revealed that FSIS inspectors were not paid by the federal government and were receiving subsidized meals and transit from the companies they were inspecting. Their medical bills were also covered by the same companies. This revelation lead to the temporary suspension of meat exports to the U.S. Subsequent problems included the discovery of drug traces on Brazilian meat, as well as an outbreak of BSE.

“Last week, food safety officials in the European Union reported finding serious problems with Brazil’s meat exports. Shipments stopped at the border tested positive for salmonella, drug residues, E.coli and other serious problems.

“We praise Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) for stepping up to protect American consumers and ranchers by pressuring the USDA to suspend meat shipments from Brazil, and we’re pleased to see the agency finally take action, but it’s not enough. We also call on the Trump administration to revoke Brazil’s equivalency status until it can clean up its act.”

Secretary of Agriculture Perdue issued this statement about the ban: “Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness.  Although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers. That’s what we’ve done by halting the import of Brazilian fresh beef.  I commend the work of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for painstakingly safeguarding the food we serve our families.”

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