U.S. bans Brazil beef over safety concerns

Roger Yu

The United States banned all imports of fresh beef from Brazil, citing food safety concerns.

Experts get ready to test beef seized in different markets March 20 in Rio de Janeiro.

The ban on the fifth-largest beef exporter to the USA will remain in place until Brazil takes "corrective action," according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce on Thursday.

shipped about 152.7 million pounds of beef to the USA in 2016. Only Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico exported more beef to the USA last year.

Since March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has been inspecting all meat products arriving from Brazil. U.S. officials refused entry to 11% of them, or about 1.9 million pounds, over "public health concerns, sanitary conditions and animal health issues," the agency said.

“That figure is substantially higher than the rejection rate of 1% of shipments from the rest of the world,” it said.

nuFresh beef from Brazil isn't high-end steaks served at upscale restaurants or even mid-range cuts found in supermarket meat cases. The vast majority is trimmings used in ground and processed products, such as ground beef and hot dogs, according to the North American Meat Institute, the packers and processors trade organization.

The ban is unlikely to affect consumer prices anytime soon, because U.S. imports of Brazilian fresh beef are limited.

"It’s going to be difficult to feel if it lasts less than two weeks," Mike Zuzolo, president of Global Commodity Analytics, a Kansas-based commodity research and brokerage firm, said of the ban. "There have been other times when we’ve had this kind of dust-up with a trading partner, and it usually takes a couple to three months to actually play out in the retail market."

Five percent of all beef — chilled, frozen and cooked — imported to the USA is from Brazil, according to Cassandra Fish, a cattle and beef market expert.

"It’s like you have a cup, but you took a teaspoon out, so it doesn't impact us much. We didn’t have a chance to have big inflow of beef from Brazil going. It just started in September," she said. "It’s a much bigger deal for Brazil than for the U.S." end nu

The Brazilian government told the United States it's working to address safety issues, including shutting down five facilities.

Brazil's beef industry has been beset by government investigations stemming from charges of corruption. This year, Brazilian police raided scores of meat processing facilities accused of bribing inspection officials.

Among the companies under investigation is JBS, a Sao Paulo-based company that is one of the world's largest beef processors. Federal authorities in Brazil charged that JBS allegedly bribed health inspectors to allow the company to export contaminated meat.

“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," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement. "That’s what we’ve done by halting the import of Brazilian fresh beef."