Secretary Vilsack urges Brazil to improve animal disease testing and reporting

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has expressed concern about the timeliness of Brazil’s animal disease testing and reporting and is urging the country to take steps to expedite the process.  The U.S. opened its market to fresh beef from Brazil in 2016 after a full and careful review of animal health infrastructure, disease status, and food safety system. 

In a recent letter to Brazil’s Ag Minister, Vilsack said continued confidence in its animal disease surveillance, testing, and reporting systems is paramount to the trade relationship between the two countries.

Kent Bacus with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says for more than two years Brazil has failed to report atypical cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a timely manner.  “That raised a lot of questions, raised a lot of red flags for us about the safety of the Brazilian system and the competency of the Brazilian government to actually be able to find these problems when they arise,” he says.

Brazil’s timeliness of BSE reporting significantly lags other major beef exporters and doesn’t comply with WOAH guidelines.  

He tells Brownfield Brazil’s lack of veterinary diagnostic laboratory capabilities is concerning.  “Brazil has to ship off a lot of their incidences when they occur,” he says. “So, when you have to confirm with the test and you have to be able to confirm the results, they’re not able to do it in house. They’re having to ship it to Canada, and they’ve had to wait and it’s delayed this reporting period.”

Bacus says the US is a major consumer of beef, and it relies on imports of lean beef, most of which comes from Australia and New Zealand, to meet consumer demand. “We use that to make ground beef to make hamburgers,” he says.  “We raise a lot of fat cattle here. We don’t have enough of the domestic supply of lean trimmings to meet that ground beef demand.”

He says Brazil’s lag in reporting cases of BSE puts the safety of beef imports from the country in question.  “We have a lot of concerns about their overall system and about the potential risk they could pose to the US market,” he says.  “And most importantly to the image of beef that we have built here with US consumers.”

Brazil and the United States are the two largest cattle-producing nations in the world and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the countries share a joint responsibility in protecting cattle health. 

Vilsack is urging Brazil in the strongest terms to continue progress in streamlining timely animal disease reporting and has asked the country to review its internal testing process, consider concurrent rather than consecutive testing strategies for high-suspect samples, and decrease the overall time between sampling and testing.

AUDIO: Kent Bacus, NCBA

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