The USDA recently announced that an agreement has been reached with Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply to allow access for U.S. beef to the Brazilian market. This is the first time that U.S. beef has been approved for export to Brazil since the diagnosis of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-positive cow in 2003. Brazil’s actions reflect the fact that the U.S. is now under the ‘negligible risk classification’ for BSE by the World Organization for Animal Health. As a result of this classification USDA has worked to re-open global markets, such as Brazil, to U.S. beef exports.
In a separate decision, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also determined that fresh beef can be imported from Brazil to the U.S. This decision was based on a scientific review of Brazil’s food safety system that determined the Brazilian system is equivalent to that of the U.S. This ruling has sparked concern about exposure of Foot and Mouth (FMD) disease to U.S. livestock as parts of Brazil are affected by FMD. However, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducted a risk assessment and ruled that fresh beef can be safely imported to the U.S. from fourteen states in Brazil.
Is there a risk of transmitting FMD in meat products?
Foot and Mouth Disease is a severe, highly contagious disease that affects animals with divided hooves such as cattle, swine and sheep. The primary mode of transmission is when infected animals come into physical contact with susceptible animals. The virus can also persist in the meat of infected animals if the pH remains above 6.0. After slaughter muscle undergoes a conversion to meat during which pH drops from around 7.0 to approximately 5.6. This pH decline is due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscle tissue during the process of rigor mortis. The acidification of meat would inactivate any FMD virus present in the tissue of infected animals. The other possible mode of transmitting FMD from meat would be the feeding of raw meat from infected animals (that did not attain a pH <6.0) to susceptible animals. This scenario is most likely in the swine industry as many pigs are fed food waste. However, food waste must be heat treated as mandated by the 1980 Swine Health Protection Act. This is done to reduce the risk of foreign animal diseases in swine and to eliminate any other harmful pathogens.
Where does Brazil fit in the U.S. import market?
Countries such as Australia and Uruguay have country-specific agreements regarding the amount of beef that can be exported to the U.S. There is no such agreement with Brazil; therefore beef imports from Brazil will fall under a quota limit of 64.8 million tons shared with countries that do not have specific agreements. Access to the ‘other’ quota is on a first-come, first-serve basis and all imports within this quota pay 4.4 cents/kg. In 2015, 68% of the ‘other’ quota was filled by countries such as Ireland and Honduras indicating Brazil will have competition in the quota space.