It’s rare that a reaction to an event occurs before the event itself. But in a way, that’s what happened last week when Brazil confirmed a case of Atypical BSE or mad cow disease in its northwest state of Para. And Brazil is a chronic late reporter of mad cow events.

Just before Brazil reported the mad cow event, U.S. Senators from the states of South Dakota, Montana and New Mexico reintroduced their bipartisan bill to suspend Brazilian beef imports to the United States until experts can conduct a systemic review of the commodity’s impacts on food safety and animal health.

The sponsors are Senators Jon Tester, D-MT, Mike Rounds, R-SD, and Ben Ray Luján, D-NM.

A new mad cow report in Brazil, which has the country suspending its exports to China with no such action for the United States, is what concerns the sponsoring Senators.

“As a third-generation farmer, I know how hard Montana ranchers work to produce top quality beef that consumers can trust,” said Tester. “Folks shouldn’t have to worry about whether the products they buy at the grocery store are safe to eat, and that’s why we need to halt Brazilian beef imports until Brazilian producers can prove that their products meet our health and safety standards. I’ll take on anyone, at home and abroad, to ensure that Montana producers aren’t cut out of the market by foreign corporations who aren’t following the rules.”

“South Dakota ranch families work tirelessly to produce the safest, highest quality, and most affordable beef in the world,” said Rounds. “Producer’s livelihoods are being compromised by Brazilian beef imports that fail to meet our country’s food safety and animal health standards, as Brazil has a history of failing to report, in a timely and accurate manner, diseases found in their herds. This poses a significant threat to both American producers and consumers. Consumers should be able to confidently feed their families beef that has met the rigorous standards required in the United States. Our bipartisan legislation would make certain Brazilian beef is safe to transport and eat before it is brought into our markets, neutralizing Brazil’s deceptive trade tactics.”

The Senators first introduced the bill in November of 2021 after Brazil detected two cases of atypical Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “Mad Cow Disease” in June.

Most countries report similar cases to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) immediately – with both the United Kingdom and Germany this year reporting issues to OIE within days of their occurrence earlier this year – but Brazil reported its cases more than 2 months after the fact, breaking trust with the OIE and global trading partners. This has been a routine occurrence, with Brazil also waiting months or years to report similar cases in 2019, 2014, and 2012.

Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the Denver-based National Cattleman’s Beef Association, told attendees at an industry event that Brazil’s reporting of BSE cases is always months or years late.

“We understand that this is an Atypical case. They’ve sent it to the World Organization for Animal Health for confirmation. What we don’t know yet is the timeline,” Lane said.

Brazil is apparently alone among countries that do not report within 24 hours.

Atypical cases are not the same as classical ones, they don’t present a threat to the herd and they’re spontaneously occurring, but timely reporting is how the system works properly.

Lane says that for the last 10 years, Brazil has never reported one of these in a timely manner.

Brazil enjoys preferential market access on the global stage due to its designation as a “negligible risk” exporter by OIE.

While rare, one-off instances of atypical BSE do not necessarily indicate systemic issues with the health of Brazilian cattle herds, repeated delays in reporting suggests an overly lax food safety regime and raise concerns about the reporting of additional dangerous diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever, and Avian Influenza.

The Senate bill would ensure that Brazilian beef is safe to eat before it is brought into U.S. markets by imposing a moratorium on Brazilian beef until a group of food safety, animal health, and trade experts has made a recommendation regarding its import status. The legislation is supported by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and R-CALF USA.

“The United States has some of the world’s highest food safety and animal health standards, and any country who wishes to trade with the United States must demonstrate that they can meet those standards. Brazil’s track record of failing to report atypical BSE cases is unacceptable, and we must hold all trade partners accountable without exception,” said Lane.

“Put simply, Brazil is a bad actor in the global marketplace. Several countries, including China, banned Brazilian beef last year following animal and human health scares in the country,” said Whitney Klasna, Vice President of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “It is outrageous that we continue to accept the importation of beef from a country that is not interested in upholding the high standards and quality of the U.S. cattle and beef industries. USCA looks forward to working with Senators Tester and Rounds to push this bill to the President’s desk.”

“Our nation’s national security depends on food security and Senator Tester and Senator Round’s bill to protect the safety of our food supply by banning beef from Brazil, which has a history of noncompliance with our food safety requirements, will help ensure that only safe and wholesome beef is available in our food supply chain,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA.

The Senators have repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of Brazilian beef. Following repeated reports that Brazilian beef exports were rotten or otherwise unsafe, They’ve encountered push-back from the Biden administration over concerns about the potential for retaliation against the U.S. beef industry.

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