Brazil suspends beef exports to China after cases of mad cow disease

Brazilian economy updates

Brazil has suspended beef exports to China, its largest market, after this weekend confirming two cases of “atypical” mad cow disease in separate meat plants.

The Latin American nation is the world’s largest beef exporter and its meatpacking companies, notably JBS and Marfrig, have profited handsomely from the surging market for protein in China.

Between January and July this year, shipments of beef from Brazil to China reached 490,000 tons and generated sales of US$2.4bn, an increase of 8.6 per cent and 13.8 per cent, respectively, compared with the same period last year, according to data from the Brazilian Meat Exporting Industry Association.

But on Saturday shipments were halted completely after two cases of mad cow disease were identified in the states of Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais. The agriculture ministry said they were the fourth and fifth cases of “atypical” mad cow disease in 23 years.

These incidents are considered “atypical” because they “occur spontaneously and sporadically and are not related to the ingestion of contaminated food”, the ministry said, adding that there was “no risk to human and animal health” and the two cases had been detected during inspection before the animals were slaughtered.

Brazil has never reported a case of “classic” mad cow disease, according to the ministry.

The suspension of exports will remain in effect until authorities in China assess the cases and make a decision on whether to resume the trade.

Last year, China suspended imports from a number of Brazilian meat processing plants over concerns that Covid-19 outbreaks in the facilities risked importing the virus back into the country.

Executives from Brazilian meat companies at the time called the decision an “overreaction”. The move prompted an increase in meat prices in China and an uptick in food price inflation.

World animal health authorities exclude the occurrence of atypical cases of mad cow in assessing a country’s official risk status, Brazil’s agriculture ministry said.

“In this way, Brazil maintains its classification as a country with an insignificant risk for the disease, not justifying any impact on the trade of animals and their products and by-products”, it added.

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