U.S. food safety regulators have put a stop to fresh beef imports from Brazil, following earlier reports that meatpackers in the country — one of the world’s largest beef exporters — had allowed rotten, salmonella-tainted meat to be shipped abroad.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it had suspended, until further notice, all imports of fresh beef from Brazil following “recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market.”
Since March, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had been inspecting 100% of all meat products arriving in the U.S. from Brazil. FSIS has since blocked about 11% (or 1.9 million pounds) of the beef from entering the country, because of public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues.
According to the USDA, the refusal rate is substantially higher than the rejection rate of 1% of shipments from the rest of the world.
The new ban on Brazilian meat imports will continue “until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action which the USDA finds satisfactory,” the USDA said.
“Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply is one of our critical missions, and it’s one we undertake with great seriousness,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Concerns about the safety of meat improved from Brazil came to the forefront in March when authorities accused inspectors at a Brazilian exporter of allowing spoiled or tainted meats to be sold.
Investigators claimed that health inspectors at the plants were bribed in an attempt to continue the sale of expired meat. Police also alleged the questionable meat was altered with chemicals such as water and manioc flour to mask the appearance and smell.
Part of the reason for the delay was the U.S.’s complicated history with Brazilian meat producers. The USDA only began allowing the import of Brazilian beef in Aug. 2016 after a 13-year ban.
The agency said at the time that it had worked since 2003 to ensure that Brazil’s regulations aligned with the World Organization for Animal Health’s scientific international animal health guidelines.
In a separate decision in August, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service determined that Brazil’s food safety system governing meat products remains equivalent to that of the United States and that fresh — chilled or frozen — beef could be safely imported from Brazil.
Still, the U.S. did say it would step up its inspection of Brazilian beef, but that did little to address the meat that had already been shipped to retailers’ shelves.
Of course, retailers could have tried to pull the products, but that would likely have been a complicated process as the U.S. no longer requires mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef and pork muscle cuts, ground beef, and ground pork.
The USDA removed the mandatory COOL requirement in late 2015 as an amendment [PDF] to the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2016 in order to bring the U.S. into compliance with intentional trade obligations.
Prior to the amendment, retailers were required to notify their customers of the country of origin of the products.
Now, retailers are no longer required by the rule to provide country of origin information for the beef and pork that they sell, and firms that supply beef and pork to these retailers no longer must provide them with this information. Additionally, firms in the supply chain for beef and pork are also relieved from the requirements associated with mandatory COOL.