Japan has suspended beef imports from Brazil after samples from a cow that died two years ago tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephelopathy (BSE).
The World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) reported on Friday that tests by Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture had confirmed that a 13-year-old beef breeding cow which died in Parana state in 2010 was carrying the "causing agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy."
The animal did not develop the disease, nor did the agent cause its death, according to the Brazilian ministry.
It attributed the two-year delay between the animal’s death and public confirmation and notification of the disease several reasons including an incident in a laboratory which had caused an “overload” of the testing system, and a classification that saw the animal treated as a low priority case (click here to view the OIE report)
The sample initially tested positive in June 2012 and was sent for confirmatory diagnosis to the OIE Reference Laboratory at Weybridge in the United Kingdom, where it positive last Thursday, December 6.
“The epidemiological investigation shows that the animal’s death was not caused by BSE and suggests that it may be an atypical case of the disease occurring in the oldest animals,” an OIE statement said.
“Information collected during the epidemiological investigation shows also that the animal was reared in an extensive system on grazing.”
The OIE said Brazil is still recognised as having a negligible BSE risk in accordance with Chapter 11.5 of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code.
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said on Saturday that it had suspended imports from Brazil as soon as the BSE case was officially confirmed.
Japan imported 1435 metric tonnes of Brazilian cooked beef last year, which represents just 0.3 pc of its entire beef import trade.
Japan requires that meat from Brazil be heat-treated (mostly in cooked, tinned form) before arrival due to the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in the South American nation’s beef herd. No raw chilled for frozen beef in permitted into Japan from Brazil.
US cattle industry organisation R-Calf said the delay highlighted shortfalls in international disease management systems.
“The two-year delay in Brazil’s disease notification was a symptom of the failure of the OIE’s global system that erroneously assumes foreign countries, particularly developing countries, have the same means, commitment and capabilities as the United States to control and eradicate diseases,” Chair of R-CALF USA’s Animal Health Committee Max Thornsberry said.
“This shows that the United States should not be relying on the OIE or on foreign countries to ensure that food imported into the United States is safe.”
Citing USDA import data, R-Calf said the US had imported approximately 67 million pounds of beef from Brazil since the BSE suspect was identified.
“That means the U.S. imported enough beef from Brazil in 2011 and 2012 to feed over one million Americans their annual consumption of beef,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
“None of that Brazilian beef imported into the US during the past two years was subject to BSE mitigations that are supposed to apply to countries where BSE is known to exist, meaning US consumers have been subjected to an unnecessary and avoidable risk of mad cow disease from Brazil.
“Like the October 2012 discovery of well over a million pounds of contaminated beef imported from Canada, this failure by Brazil to provide timely notice of its disease problem clearly demonstrates that USDA’s ongoing reliance on foreign countries and the OIE to protect US citizens from unsafe imports is absolutely foolish and without basis, and is another example of why we need country-of-origin labelling.”
Japan’s health ministry is expected to relax the age limit on beef from US cattle from 30 months to 20 months next year, a threshold introduced when it lifted on a ban on US beef imports imposed when the US reported a case of BSE in 2003.
Meat & Livestock Australia reported last week that Brazilian meat exports during November declined on the previous month, which it said was indicative of a slowdown in protein demand globally.
Brazilian beef, chicken and pork exports all slipped month-on-month, in contrast to Brazilian corn exports, which increased and are tracking at record high levels.
Brazilian beef exports totalled 82,700 tonnes swt in November, declining 18pc on the previous month, but up 14pc year-on-year.
Faced with higher production costs, primarily due to the higher grain prices, Brazilian chicken meat exports fell 11pc on the previous month, to 279,600 tonnes swt – down 21% year-on-year. Pork meat exports decreased 18pc during November, to 44,400 tonnes swt, with Russia maintaining its position as the largest export destination.
The drought in US, a reduction in grain production in Argentina, combined with the depreciation of the Brazilian currency has contributed to a surge in Brazilian corn exports during 2012. During November, Brazilian corn exports rose four-fold year-on-year, to 3.9 million tonnes.