Brazil's beef industry has been thrown into turmoil after the US banned imports of fresh meat over safety concerns. Closure of the US markets is likely to hurt Brazilian beef exports to other markets.
Brazil rushed to contest a ban on fresh beef imports on Friday after the United States halted shipments from the world's largest meat and poultry exporter.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced it was suspending all fresh beef imports from Brazil because of "recurring concerns" over safety.
Inspections of Brazilian fresh beef imports have found, among other things, hidden abscesses that Brazilian meatpackers say were caused by a vaccine against foot-and-mouth disease.
The United States allowed fresh beef imports from Brazil only last year, and they still only account for 1 percent of the industry's exports. The ban does not impact processed meat imports.
Antonio Camardelli, head of the Brazilian meat exporters association Abiec, said that although the US market is small, the USDA's earlier approval raised hopes of exports to other markets.
"If you look at the financial aspect, it's important for the country, but the bigger damage is to our image," he said. "We worked a long time to open the US market, because it's a passport to other markets."
The USDA began inspecting 100 percent of Brazilian fresh beef imports in March after a scandal involving alleged bribery of inspectors shut Brazilian meat out of major world markets.
Since then, US inspectors have refused 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products compared to a rejection rate of 1 percent from the rest of the world.
Canada and the European Union have also rejected some beef and poultry shipments.
Brazilian minister to travel to US
Blairo Maggi, Brazil's agriculture minister, announced Friday he will travel to the United States to address concerns that could hit the $13 billion-(11.6 billion-euros)-a-year industry.
"Brazil could lose a lot if it isn't able to get this decision reversed," Maggi said.
The US action is also viewed as a trade rivalry between Brazil, the world's largest beef exporter, and the United States, the world's top beef producer.
"We do have a sanitation problem but also big pressure from US producers who don't want to see Brazilian beef there. We are major competitors on the world stage and we are selling them meat," Maggi said.
At the center of Brazil's meat troubles is meatpacker JBS, which was involved in the meat bribery scandal in March.
That case has gained a renewed focus after an executive of JBS' parent company, J&F, claimed that President Michel Temer had received bribes and approved hush money to quiet a politician.
Prosecutors are trying to bring Temer to trial as part of a plea bargain over charges of massive corruption involving J&F.
cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)