A cow at the Sidney Livestock Market in 2016.

All three of the nation’s largest cattle associations have banded together to call for the suspension of Brazilian beef imports, and the situation has prompted U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, to introduce a bill to do just that.

Tester said repeated issues with delayed reporting of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease by Brazil are cause for legitimate concern about the commodity’s safety.

“Montanans demand the highest level of safety and certainty in their beef, and Brazilian imports aren’t making the cut,” Tester said. “Folks expect their beef to have been rigorously tested against the strictest of standards, and concerns about Brazilian imports not only jeopardize consumer trust, but present a serious risk to Montana producers. We owe it to our domestic producers and consumers to halt Brazilian imports until we can guarantee their beef and reporting standards are making the grade.”

Brazil waited until September of this year to announce it had confirmed two cases of atypical BSE in Brazilian beef in June. Cases of BSE are more usually reported within days of occurring, Tester said, but Brazil has a habit of waiting months, and sometimes even years, to report its BSE cases.

A one-off instance of BSE is not necessarily a sign there are systemic issues with safety, but repeated delays hint that the reporting system is too lax. There are also concerns with other dangerous diseases ranging form foot-and-mouth to African Swine Fever, and Avian Influenza associated with Brazil’s meat industry.

Tester’s bill imposes a moratorium on further imports until a group of food safety and trade experts can investigate and make a recommendations on the country’s import status.

All three of the nation’s largest cattlemen’s organization have written to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and are supporting Tester’s legislation.

“We cannot wait for an endemic animal disease to reach our borders before we take action,” said Leo McDonnell, Director Emeritus, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “There is a clear and present threat associated with the importation of Brazilian beef imports that we need to halt immediately. Further, the establishment of a working group will allow all stakeholders of the U.S. beef and cattle industries to have a voice in evaluating the threat to American producers and consumers posed by beef and beef products imported from Brazil. USCA thanks Senator Tester for his ongoing efforts to suspend beef trade with countries that pose a risk to the health of the domestic cattle herd.”

Ethan Lane, with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said ensuring other countries can’t skimp on safety standards is a matter of both public safety and fair play.

“U.S. Cattle producers have a long-standing track record of meeting USDA’s rigorous oversight standards in order to promote public health food safety, animal health and well-being,” he said. “Any country who wishes to trade with the United States must be held to those same standards. We appreciate Senator Tester’s leadership on this important issues and look forward to working with him and this Administration to hold Brazil accountable.”

From May 15 to June 2, 1.9 million pounds of Brazilian beef products had to be rejected due to public health concerns, sanitary conditions and animal health issues, according to a USDA audit of the Brazilian beef industry. Yet, in 2021, the U.S. increased imports of Brazilian beef by 183 percent — even as China closed its borders to beef from Brazil.

“R-CALF USA greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s leadership in protecting both the U.S. food supply and the U.S. cattle industry from the possible introduction of beef from a country with a long history of food safety infractions,” said Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA. “American consumers and cattle producers deserve no less.”

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