Brazil has again raised the issue of the European Union’s restrictions on poultry products during a World Trade Organization meeting. The South American country also questioned restrictions imposed by Panama and Russia.

Restrictions affect Brazilian exporters of meat from domestic hooved animals, poultry and rabbits, as well as minced meat, meat preparations and mechanically separated meat. All horse meat slaughterhouses and horse-exporting companies have been removed from the list of establishments eligible for export to the EU.

The EU banned meat imports from 20 Brazilian poultry and beef plants in April this year following an audit of the beef, horse and poultry meat control system in the country.

A follow-up audit this year, recently published by EU authorities, found progress had been made but some areas still needed further attention.

Police in Brazil investigated the meat sector last year and alleged some health inspectors had been bribed so meat produced in unhygienic conditions could be sold.

EU imports of poultry meat from Brazil were 110,763 tonnes from January to May this year, which represented 34.4 percent of imports. That was a decline of 42 percent compared to the same period last year.

At the WTO meeting, Brazil asked the EU to withdraw the measures as they are not science-based and are part of the EU’s perception that certain export companies cannot be trusted to comply with sanitary requirements for the presence of pathogens.

The EU said the decision has a scientific basis and takes into account the risk of cross-contamination when handling poultry meat as well as consumption behavior.

“The fact that Brazil, presumably in order to profit from a lower tariff rate, decided to add salt to fresh poultry meat intended for export to the EU does not justify why the EU should now change its science-based legislation, which is in line with international agreements,” said EU authorities.  

The EU added Brazil was aware that, by adding salt to fresh meat, the end product would fall under the category of meat preparations, and stricter Salmonella microbiological criteria apply.

In November 2017 and March this year, Brazil expressed concerns over reinforced border testing controls in the EU, which had resulted in increased reports of Salmonella detections in poultry.

Brazilian officials said distinct microbiological criteria for fresh meat products and poultry meat preparations were “unjustified,” as the two products were similar.

The country exported a “considerable volume” of uncooked salted poultry meat and seasoned poultry meat to the EU, which were both commercially defined as “poultry meat preparations”.

“However, Brazil argued that the food safety specifications for salted poultry meat should be the same as those applied to fresh poultry meat, since their intrinsic characteristics relevant to microbial food safety were virtually identical. In addition, both products were uncooked, had similar muscle fibre structure and were not intended for immediate human consumption,” according to minutes made in one of the meetings.

The EU replied that there was no justification for revising the criteria and it applied to domestic production and imports into the region.

Shipments from Brazil are subject to microbiological testing at 20 percent frequency at EU borders in addition to checks requested to be done by Brazilian authorities on each consignment before export as a reaction to the meat fraud scandal.

However, the latest figures show prevalence of Salmonella in poultry meat consignments at the EU border was around 6 percent. The serotype is not known in most cases as lab testing can be limited to Salmonella spp., as required by the legal safety criteria for poultry meat preparations.

A European Commission spokesperson confirmed to Food Safety News that the ban measure taken in April is still in place on the 20 plants and shipments are still subject to 20 percent lab testing.

The spokesperson also said physical checks are made on all consignments of animal origin presented for import with the cost covered by the importer.

“So far, what we have done from our side is halt the addition of new establishments to the list of premises approved for export to the EU,” the spokesperson said. “The approval of new areas of production or new commodities for export to the EU has also been suspended (and to) monitor the results of the import checks, the implementation of corrective measures and the situation of the evolving judicial processes in Brazil in order to take further actions, if necessary.”

Ending the restrictions depends on the implementation and effectiveness of corrective measures put in place by Brazil.

“We are monitoring the complete rectification of the deficiencies identified during the audits and at the control checks at EU borders. No resumption or lifting of measures would be considered, as far as we are not convinced that the measures in place in Brazil are satisfactory and efficiently addressing the deficiencies,” EU officials said.

“There is not a calendar for this and the responsibility is on the Brazilian authorities who should guarantee the compliance of the products to be exported with the EU requirements.”

Brazil indicated more than 95 percent of the notifications of positive results for Salmonella by the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feeds (RASFF) were related to the pathogen in salted poultry meat with no public health significance.

At the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee meeting, Brazil raised another concern regarding Panama’s restrictions on beef and poultry meat.  

According to Brazil, Panama did not provide technical justification for its decision to suspend certification of seven thermos-processed beef and poultry sites previously cleared for export. Panama said the evaluation process to grant export permits is underway and a review of the decision is being considered.

Brazil also spoke about Russia’s restrictions on beef and swine meat.

The measure was introduced due to detection of the veterinary drug ractopamine in meat products imported from Brazil. Brazilian exports from 60 establishments were suspended in December 2017.

Russian domestic food safety regulations allow no residues of ractopamine in meat and meat products. Russia said it would lift restrictions when it is satisfied that adequate action has been taken.

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