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MT producers react to findings of 'mad cow' in Brazil's cowherd

Brazil Mad Cow
Posted at 5:46 AM, Feb 27, 2023

GREAT FALLS — Foreign entities continue to make their presence known in the United States agricultural food market. Brazilian beef exports to China were halted after a case of Mad Cow disease was confirmed in Brazil’s northern state of Para. The concern of the South American beef giant reporting cases of BSE, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, has prompted legislators to re-implement bipartisan legislation that would halt Brazil’s imports.

“We need to keep looking at what the Brazilians are doing and making sure that they're playing by the rules like everyone else,” explained John Grande, President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

According to the USDA, in January of 2022, Brazil’s imports of beef were up 500%, tallying nearly 100 million pounds of beef.

“Because they've had cases reported in Brazil. That does not mean that our beef supply is in any way unsafe. The United States has some of the strictest, most careful standards for safe beef in the world. Anything that we know of this situation at this point doesn't change that.” Grande shared.

Brazil is a major contributor to the world trade of beef, and Grande explained that most of the beef imported to the United States comes in the form of cooked beef, specifically chili. With the United States' regulations on monitoring disease in foreign beef, there is no room for spoiled products to fall through the cracks.

Grande added, “While this isolated incident may not be a huge deal. Whether they're following the rules and being a responsible player, that is a big deal because it could be very huge, if one of these other things like foot and mouth disease were to drop off.”

The concern comes from United States cattle producers, dodging BSE, foot and mouth disease, African Swine Fever, and R-CALF USA. Avoiding the spread of these diseases is vital and if they were to spread, it could be detrimental to herds across the country.

United States Senator Jon Tester and Republican Senator from South Dakota Mike Rounds are reintroducing bipartisan legislation to ban Brazil’s imports of beef.

Senator Tester shared a statement with MTN News:

“As a third-generation farmer, I have repeatedly demanded that America stop accepting beef from Brazil. Our ranchers here in Montana raise the best beef and consumers can trust that it is safe. I am proud to be working with my friend, Republican Senator Mike Rounds, to block Brazilian beef imports until they 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.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Steve Daines also feels strongly about how the Biden Administration has allowed the United States to fall behind China in world trade. He shared a statement saying this:

“On behalf of Montana’s cattle producers, I am furious that the Biden administration has not halted beef imports from Brazil when they know Brazil continues to find cases of Mad Cow disease in its herds. To make matters worse, Brazil is not exporting its beef to China so once again, the Biden administration continues to be outpaced by the Chinese on matters of national security and now agriculture. The president has the authority to ban Brazilian beef today. He should do it.”

Despite what federal lawmakers remark on the recurring issue, producers in Montana feel strongly about what BSE findings say about the cattle industry.

Jan McDonald is the Treasurer of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association and a producer who runs 1,200 acres of pastureland near Fairfield.

“It's a proven fact that I don't know that there's another country that produces the quality of beef that the United States does. The future of agriculture is not really promising.” She said.

McDonald, Montana Cattlemen’s Association, and other producers and organizations alike, advocate for Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL).

“Educate the consumer as to the situation. If you're walking down the street and just talk to anybody and say, ‘do you know what you buy when you go to the grocery store?’ They'll say, they haven't got a clue. You go to the restaurant, and you ask them where their beef was raised from. They can't tell you. We feel that people have the right to know.”

Montana Farmers Union is a major proponent, along with Senator Tester for Country-of-Origin Labeling.

President of Montana Farmers Union, Walter Schweitzer said in a press release, "The announcement of yet another Mad Cow case in Brazil emphasizes the need for mandatory country of origin labeling.”

Bills introduced to ban the import of Brazilian beef were introduced in November 2021, after delayed reporting cases of atypical BSE. The Northern Ag Network reported the senators said it is a routine occurrence with Brazil waiting months or years to report similar cases in 2019, 2014, and 2012.

Grande, who represents the Montana Stockgrowers Association believes that COOL would not be a fix-all solution, and it’s a personal choice of the consumer knowing if their beef is a product of Mexico, Canada, or the United States. A marketing issue that needs to be worked out with the USDA and other organizations that handle label marketing.

While McDonald, who represents small producers and Montana Cattlemen’s Association says the consumer should have to opportunity to know where their dollar spent on beef is raised.

The United States currently does not require beef and pork to provide origin labeling on products. Currently, no cases of BSE have been reported in the United States. With Brazil showing constant negligence in reporting cases of Mad Cow, it is a cover of lenient food safety procedures.

The concern still lies in exposing American cattle herds to Foot and Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever, and R-CALF USA.

In a study done by Iowa State University, humans who eat BSE-contaminated beef products can develop a disease called, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The disease is labeled a “variant” to distinguish it from a different disease found in humans called classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). If a human were to contract such issues, as the disease progresses, incoordination and dementia develop, followed by coma and death.

The risk of acquiring vCJD in the United States is extremely low. The United States has regulations to prevent BSE-infected beef from entering the market. According to Iowa State University, milk, and other milk-based products are thought to be safe.

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