Tester Continues His Fight to Suspend Brazilian Beef Imports, Defend Montana Cattle Producers

After introducing legislation to suspend Brazilian beef imports, Senator sends bipartisan letter urging USDA to take action

Continuing his aggressive push to defend Montana cattle producers, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today sent a bipartisan letter with 15 of his colleagues urging U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to listen to the concerns of those in the cattle industry and immediately suspend beef imports from Brazil.

Last month, Tester introduced legislation to suspend Brazilian beef imports to the United States until experts can conduct a systematic review of the commodity’s safety.

“Cattle producers across the country work hard to produce the highest quality beef in the world,” Senator Tester and his colleagues wrote. “This industry should not be jeopardized by Brazilian beef imports that may contaminate U.S. herds and our food supply. We support the requests to suspend Brazilian fresh beef imports until a thorough investigation can be made into Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply food safety review process.”

In 2017, Brazilian fresh beef imports were suspended due to food safety concerns, and USDA allowed these imports to resume in 2020. The senators are concerned with Brazil’s recent failure to quickly disclose two cases of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – a neurological disease of cattle. On September 3, 2021, Brazil announced two cases of atypical BSE that were detected in June of the same year. Most countries report similar cases to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) immediately – with both the United Kingdom and Germany this year reporting cases 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 even years to report similar cases in 2019, 2014, and 2012.

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 suggest 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.

Tester’s legislation would ensure that Brazilian beef is safe to eat before it is brought back into U.S. markets by imposing a moratorium on Brazilian beef until a group of food safety 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.

“We cannot wait for an endemic animal disease to reach our borders before we take action,” said Leo McDonnell, Director Emeritus, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “There is a clear and present threat associated with the importation of Brazilian beef imports that we need to halt immediately. Further, the establishment of a working group will allow all stakeholders of the U.S. beef and cattle industries to have a voice in evaluating the threat to American producers and consumers posed by beef and beef products imported from Brazil. USCA thanks Senator Tester for his ongoing efforts to suspend beef trade with countries that pose a risk to the health of the domestic cattle herd.”

“US cattle producers have a longstanding track record of meeting USDA’s rigorous oversight standards in order to promote public health, food safety, animal health and well-being – and any country who wishes to trade with the United States must be held to those same standards,” said Ethan Lane, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “We appreciate Senator Tester’s leadership on this important issue and look forward to working with him and this Administration to hold Brazil accountable.”

“R-CALF USA greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s leadership in protecting both the U.S. food supply and the U.S. cattle industry from the possible introduction of beef from a country with a long history of food safety infractions,” said Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA. “American consumers and cattle producers deserve no less.”

As the only working farmer in the Senate, Tester has been a champion for ensuring food safety across the nation, and has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of Brazilian beef. Following repeated reports that Brazilian beef exports were rotten or otherwise unsafe, Tester introduced similar legislation to assess the quality of Brazilian beef and poultry in 2019.

Read Senator Tester’s full letter HERE.