Wednesday 16 August 2017

US suspends meat product imports from Brazil

Workers prepare poultry at the meatpacking company JBS in Lapa, Brazil (AP)
Workers prepare poultry at the meatpacking company JBS in Lapa, Brazil (AP)

The United States has announced the immediate suspension of all imports of beef products from Brazil because of safety concerns.

The decision by US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue came three months after a major scandal into allegations of bribed meat inspectors shook Brazil's meat industry and prompted several countries to temporarily halt imports.

In a statement, Mr Perdue said that since March, US inspectors have refused entry to 11% of Brazilian fresh beef products.

"That figure is substantially higher than the rejection rate of one percent of shipments from the rest of the world," the statement said.

It said the suspension will remain in place until Brazil's agricultural ministry takes corrective action. The statement did not detail what those actions should be.

The statement noted that Brazil had already addressed concerns of American inspectors by prohibiting five facilities from shipping beef to the US, but said that did not go far enough.

"Today's action to suspend all fresh beef shipments from Brazil supersedes the self-suspension," said the statement.

The office of Brazil's presidency said on Thursday that it had no comment. JBS, a Brazilian company that is the world's largest meat packer, declined to comment.

In March, Brazilian authorities said they were investigating inspectors who allegedly allowed expired meats to enter the market in exchange for bribes.

Several countries, including major importer China, temporarily stopped buying Brazilian meats. After assurances from Brazilian officials, most began buying again within a few weeks.

Still, the episode proved a major embarrassment for a nation that prides itself on its beef and it had a large financial impact at a time when Latin America's biggest economy is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in a generation.

For several weeks, the usual tens of millions of dollars in daily exports slowed to less than 100,000 US dollars, according to Brazilian authorities.

Brazil was the world's largest producer of beef and veal in 2016 and one of the top exporters, according to the US Agriculture Department. The country is also a major exporter of chicken and pork products.

The US is not a major importer of Brazilian beef, since it produces a considerable amount for internal consumption and export, but the decision will create fresh scrutiny on Brazil's meat industry and is sure to be closely watched by European and Asian nations that are major customers.

It is also sure to put added pressure on Brazil's President Michel Temer, who is facing several allegations of corruption and has been battered with calls to resign. Mr Temer, who has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, is currently on a trip to Russia and Norway aimed in part at expanding Brazilian markets, including meat exports.

AP

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