Brazil halts China exports after confirming two BSE cases in meat plants

Brazil, the world's largest beef exporter, has suspended beef exports to its No. 1 customer China after confirming two cases of "atypical" bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in two separate domestic meat plants, the Brazilian agriculture ministry said on Saturday.
calendar icon 4 September 2021
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Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a progressive neurologic disease of cows, sometimes referred to as "mad cow."

According to Reuters, the suspension, which is part of an animal health pact agreed between China and Brazil and is designed to allow Beijing time to take stock of the problem, begins immediately, the ministry said in a statement. China will decide when to begin importing again, it added.

The suspension is a major blow for Brazilian farmers. China and Hong Kong buy more than half of Brazil's beef exports.

The cases were identified in meat plants in the states of Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais, the ministry said. It said they were the fourth and fifth cases of "atypical" mad cow disease that have been detected in Brazil in 23 years.

It said "atypical" mad cow disease develops spontaneously and is not related to eating contaminated foods. Brazil has never had a case of "classic" mad cow disease, it said.

The two cases were confirmed on Friday after samples were sent to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) lab in Alberta, Canada, the ministry said. The OIE had subsequently been informed of the two cases, in compliance with international norms, the ministry said.

The ministry said there was no risk to animal or human health.

Brazil's government will hope the suspension is lifted quickly. The country's powerful agribusiness sector is one of the main drivers of its long-lagging economy. China is Brazil's top trade partner, and buys vast quantities of its commodities.

More about classical versus atypical BSE from the OIE:

There is a distinction to be made between these two forms, or strains:

  • Classical BSE occurs through the consumption of contaminated feed (see section ‘transmission and spread’). Whilst classical BSE was identified as a significant threat in the 90s, its occurrence has markedly decreased over the past years, as a result of the successful implementation of effective control measures and is now estimated to be extremely low (close to 0 cases).
  • Atypical BSE refers to naturally and sporadically occurring forms, which are believed to occur in all cattle populations at a very low rate, and which have only been identified in older cattle when conducting intensive surveillance.

In the early 2000s, atypical prions causing atypical BSE were identified as the result of enhanced surveillance for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The number of cases of atypical BSE is negligible.

Indeed, whilst to date there is no evidence that atypical BSE is transmissible, recycling of the atypical BSE agent has not been ruled out, and therefore measures to manage exposure risk in the feed chain continue to be recommended as a precautionary measure.

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