Is the USDA Trading Food Safety for a Diplomacy Fix?
Food & Water Watch has been trying for months to get Brazilian meat products removed from American shelves due to systemic problems with their food safety system. On September 13, they found yet another reason to try again: USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced another recall of Brazilian meat products. A meatpacking plant that had been cited for excessive animal drug residues —three recalls to be exact — shipped 258,000 pounds of beef to the U.S. This plant was supposed to be blacklisted by our import inspectors, but its beef reached our food system anyway.
Brazil has a problem: their meat contains high levels of animal residues from Ivermectin — an antiparasitic medication used to kill heartworms in cows. Beef from many Brazilian meat-packing plants has been found to carry higher levels of Ivermectin than the U.S. allows due to the fact that long-term exposure to the drug results in neurotoxicity in the human body. So, maybe we shouldn’t import Brazilian beef until they fix the problem? Not according to the USDA! But, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.
The U.S. and Brazil have been at odds over trade issues involving U.S. subsidies to cotton farmers — a violation of global trade rules according to the World Trade Organization. Instead of the U.S. paying Brazil over $800 million in sanctions, the two countries came to an agreement — a trade-off — part of which involved the eventual importing of fresh beef products from Brazil in addition to the cooked meat products already allowed. The U.S. has avoided importing fresh meat due to concerns over various animal diseases in cattle herds in Brazil.
The unfortunate part of this story is that someone is putting pressure on the USDA not to do additional recalls on Brazilian beef products that are still circulating within the U.S. food system. The contaminated products may still be in consumers’ home pantries, on store shelves and in food warehouses. But who is putting pressure on the USDA — the Brazilian government? Is it a U.S. meatpacking company that imports Brazilian meat products?
Food & Water Watch has repeatedly asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to remove Brazilian beef products from commerce. Nothing has been done to respond to these requests. USDA needs stop importing Brazilian meat until this problem is resolved, and Brazil needs to comply with our food safety standards or they should be banned from exporting meat to the U.S. It’s time to stop endangering the public in an attempt to promote international trade.