The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF USA) sent a December 10, 2012, letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting the immediate suspension of imports of ruminants and ruminant products from Brazil after the country notified the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) about a confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detected in a 13-year-old cow that died two years ago.
R-CALF USA also asked that the suspension “remain in place until [the] agency conducts a thorough and probing investigation to determine the risk of introducing BSE into the U.S. from Brazil,” and noted that “should [the agency] choose to resume such imports from Brazil, [it] must first initiate a public rulemaking with notice and opportunity for comment.”
According to an R-CALF USA press release, Brazilian officials in early 2011 subjected the cow to one of two primary tests for mad cow disease—a histopathological test—that indicated the cow was negative for BSE. In mid-2012, however, a brain sample from the suspect cow was subjected to the second primary test for mad cow disease—the immunohistochemical test—which tested positive.
Officials allegedly claim that the long delay between the two primary tests was due to a combination of a work overload at the testing laboratory and OIE rules that caused Brazil to lower the priority of testing the suspect cow. According to news sources, OIE allows “fallen stock” and cattle “over 9 years” to be classified with a “low diagnosis priority level.”
After the brain sample tested positive in mid-2012, it was sent to the OIE reference laboratory in the United Kingdom, where it again tested positive for BSE on December 6, 2012.
Brazil has reportedly been criticized for the apparent two-year delayed notification. According to R-CALF USA Animal Health Committee Chair Max Thornsberry, the delay is a symptom of the failure of the OIE’s global system that erroneously assumes foreign countries, particularly developing countries, have the same means, commitment and capabilities as the United States to control and eradicate diseases. “This shows that the United States should not be relying on the OIE or on foreign countries to ensure that food imported into the United States is safe,” he said.
Brazilian officials apparently claim that the case was an isolated event and the infected cow had been exclusively grass-fed and had not been given cattle feed containing rendered cow parts—a practice linked to “classical” BSE cases that spread through the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s. In response to the recent test results, however, the Japanese government announced on December 8 that it would halt beef imports from Brazil, and, as the world’s second-biggest exporter of beef (behind India), Brazil could face significant losses if other nations follow Japan’s lead. Officials have reportedly said that Brazil will send missions to the top 20 nations that buy its beef to explain the case.