Although I’ve never knowingly ate it, I’ve got a feeling I’d like Brazilian beef. The folks down there have a rich ranching heritage and those Brazilian Carnival restaurants are delicious. The people at the USDA must have a hankering for it, since they announced last winter they wanted to open up the United States to imports of fresh beef from Brazil. Sounds like a fine idea—but there seems to be an odor rising from this proposal that may give it trouble passing the smell test.
This whole situation started in December of 2013. At that time the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which controls meat inspection for all meat consumed in the US, decided they wanted to open up imports of fresh beef from Brazil. On the surface this seems like a fine idea. The US is short on beef, this deal would promote free trade and we’d really like to be friends with the Brazilians because they seem like nice people to be around and all.
However, there’s a rank detail that is wafting up north. The problem is Brazil has with Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). This is a disease that causes nasty ulcers on the feet and in the mouth of livestock. Is not dangerous to people, but spreads through a cattle herd like a cold through a college dorm during finals week.
Whenever a country has a FMD outbreak, every other nation immediately blacklists their meat products, making exporting meat impossible. The last time Brazil had an outbreak was 2006; not nearly long enough for us to feel safe that one of those nasty FMD bugs couldn’t make its way up to the good ol’ US of A on a fresh-never-frozen beef patty.
The prospect of importing an animal welfare and economically devastating pathogen prompted cattlemen to speak out against this change. Throughout the comment period, which closed April 22nd, individual ranchers and farmers as well as food safety scientists warned the USDA of the potential consequences of allowing the importation of Brazilian beef. Cattlemen requested the USDA keep the comment period open longer to allow for more discussion of this issue, but the USDA denied the request.
Then in May, a report was released by the USDA that showed Brazilian meat inspection standards were not up to American standards. This confirmed what American farmers and ranchers had been worried about the entire time. The worst part—the report was dated April 16th, six days before the comment period closed. Either the USDA was too inept to get a crucial report out in time for the public to view it, or it purposely hid the report until after the comment period.
One additional point in the report added a whole new concern. Some Brazilian harvest facilities were not removing all the Specified Risk Material, which is a term for the parts of the bovine body that could possibly contain the prion that causes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). In the US, this is removed entirely and discarded so there is absolutely no risk of contamination. Since Brazil just had their second case of BSE in a home-raised, grass-fed animal, it raises another disease concern for Americans.
In short, this idea stinks. The fact that the USDA did not get this report out during the comment period is super fishy. I’m for free trade and harbor no ill will against Brazil, but if Brazilian beef is not inspected at the same standard as US beef then it shouldn’t be allowed in. If in the future Brazil can assure us their beef is pathogen free, then I’m for letting it in. But right now they cannot. On the smell test scale, this idea ranks equal with yesterday’s roadkill. I’m not going to pick it up and neither should the USDA.