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American Shipper

Dodging a bullet

Brazilian meat industry downplays extent of tainted beef as some markets re-open

   Brazil’s powerful beef industry dodged what could have been a costly, prolonged international ban on its exports this past weekend.
   The country’s federal police launched a nationwide investigation March 17—dubbed Operation Carne Fraca (“Weak Flesh”)—that exposed how certain meat packers paid off government sanitation inspectors to turn a blind eye on shipping spoiled products both domestically and overseas.
   The result was an immediate blow to one of Brazil’s biggest, most prominent industries, as key export markets around the world imposed temporary bans on the country’s shipments of meat and related ready-to-eat products. Some 20 countries imposed bans, including China, Brazil’s largest beef importer, the European Union, South Korea, Egypt and Chile.
   By Saturday, however, most of these countries began lifting their bans. China and Chile reportedly will continue to maintain their import bans for the 21 Brazilian beef operations still under investigation by the Brazilian government.
   The quick action taken by Brazil’s meat producers, as well as government, likely had a lot to do with how the industry avoided a potentially damaging import ban.
   In the wake of the investigation, Brazil’s chief meat lobby publically defended the integrity of the country’s meat industry. The Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC, or Associação Brasileira das Indústrias Exportadoras de Carne) said none of its 29 member-companies’ plants were named in the scandal.
   “ABIEC’s members follow the strictest domestic and international rules and standards for beef, whether intended for the domestic market or for the more than 133 countries to which we export,” the association said, adding the cases made public by Operation Carne Fraca were “isolated incidents that do not represent Brazil’s enormous beef production chain.”
   The trade association’s members account for 92 percent of Brazil’s meat traded in international markets. Currently, Brazil produces 10 million tons of beef annually, of which 20.8 percent is exported to 133 countries. Brazil’s meat exports, including poultry, generate about $12 billion a year.
   Brazil’s President Michel Temer also convened a ministerial meeting on March 19 to promote the overall health of the nation’s meat industry. He stated that of the 4,387 units of meat subjected to the federal police investigation, only 21 involved possible violations, and of those, only six were exported.
   The president further noted in 2016 that 853,000 consignments of animal products from Brazil were shipped abroad and only 184 were found to be non-compliant by importers. He said these compliance issues were non-sanitary-related, such as labeling and certification.

Instead of imposing an outright ban on Brazilian meat imports, the United States announced it stepped up pathogen testing on all shipments of raw beef and “ready-to-eat” products from Brazil.

   Temer added that all of the country’s exporting meat plants “remain open to inspections of importing countries and to monitoring of activities of the national control system.”
   Instead of imposing an outright ban on Brazilian meat imports, the United States announced it stepped up pathogen testing on all shipments of raw beef and “ready-to-eat” products from Brazil.
   The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said, starting March 18, it had already increased its examination of these products at ports-of-entry across the country. The agency said it will “indefinitely maintain its 100 percent re-inspection and pathogen testing of all lots of FSIS-regulated products imported from Brazil.”
   FSIS works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service with its inspection Brazilian beef shipments upon their arrival in U.S. ports.
   According to FSIS, none of the meat processors implicated in the Brazil investigation, including the country’s two largest meat exporters JBS and BRF, ship products to the United States.
   The agency’s re-inspection activities includes testing Brazil beef trimmings for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and non-O157 shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). For ready-to-eat products, FSIS’s re-inspections will also look for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.
   “FSIS will take immediate action to refuse entry of product into the United States if there are findings of food safety concern,” the agency said.
   Large agricultural countries, such as the United States and Brazil, rigorously guard their domestic meat producers’ interests, but they are also well aware of the quick reaction that other countries might take whenever sanitary and health concerns are discovered. Often, when an overseas market is closed, it takes years to reopen.
   In December 2003, when a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow” disease, was discovered in a Washington state cow, U.S. beef exports were immediately shut out of most markets worldwide. The World Organization for Animal Health shortly thereafter rated the United States with a “negligible risk” classification for BSE, yet it has taken years for the USDA to negotiate the reopening of many of these markets to U.S. beef. Between 2015 and 2016, the USDA eliminated BSE-related restrictions on U.S. beef in 16 countries.
   Last year, the USDA reached an agreement with Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply to allow access for U.S. beef and beef products to the Brazilian market for the first time since 2003.
   In a separate decision, FSIS determined last year Brazil’s food safety system governing meat products was equivalent to that of the United States and that fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Brazil can be safely imported into the United States. The first shipments of Brazilian beef arrived at the Port of Philadelphia in mid-October 2016.

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