Fact-finding trip to Brazil uncovers widespread lack of FMD controls

  America will not accept beef from Brazil, neither will Australia, Japan or Korea, because of concerns about foot-and-mouth disease and the use of growth promoters, yet the EU appears to turn a blind eye to this food safety issue.             Last year 350,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef came into the EU, depressing prices and demand for beef throughout the EU, and the issue also has raised legitimate concerns about foot safety and security given Brazil’s record on traceability, tagging, movement in an out of areas with foot-and-mouth disease and the widespread use of growth hormones.             The issue has exercised the minds of many local farmers in recent years, but little success was achieved in getting momentum behind a European-wide campaign to have Brazilian beef banned. The tide appears to be slowly turning on that count, as farmers throughout the EU, now facing lower beef prices, put their weight behind the campaign to ban Brazilian beef until such time as the authorities in Brazil can demonstrate that the country has equivalent standards.             It is believed that the incidence of foot-and-mouth disease in Brazil is hugely under-reported, but FMD had been identified in three states and beef from those states banned. With little or no tagging or movement controls, the ban appears to be a mere inconvenience as cattle are moved freely between restricted states and those with no restrictions.             Last Monday night, IFA Livestock Chairman John Bryan from Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny, was in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon to address a public meeting on the issue of livestock and he told me about his recent trip to Brazil and what he found there.             ‘In mid May we went to Brazil. We did two days in the US and then a couple of days in Sao Paulo and the rest of the time on farms. In total we were there for 11 days. Three of us went, Kevin Kinsella, the IFA Livestock Director, Justin McCarthy, the Livestock Editor on the Farmers’ Journal and myself.             ‘We were out in Brazil last year. We went because one of the things that annoys Irish farmers is the European Commission has put a level of bureaucracy and environmental standards and animal welfare standards in place which has built up over the last 20 years.   We now have a much higher level of food safety in place and we would have known that Brazil didn’t meet those standards.’             ‘In May 2006 we decided to go out on the ground. We visited 11 farms and looked at tagging, traceability, movement control and residues. We presented our findings to the European Commission. Our findings were that Brazil didn’t come anywhere near meeting EU standards. EU regulations say that imports have to meet equivalent standards. ‘In terms of foot-and-mouth control, they operate a policy of regionalisation, which is supposed to include police, army and veterinary procedures. The separate regions are supposed to be totally separate. When we travelled from one region to another there was no level of biosecurity. This year there was even less. We travelled 3,500 km through Brazil. We went to the states of Sao Paulo, Mato Grosso del sol and Parana. These states used to put 60 percent of the beef into Europe. They are banned from exporting to the EU since 2005. The state of Mato Grosso is clear from FMD. We travelled up through Mata Grosso and we met thousands of cattle transiting in both directions on the motorway. They offer no level of biosecurity, unlike the situation in Europe in 2001 where there was total separation of the stock in each area.             ‘In the EU all animals have to be tagged and every movement is recorded on a central database. In Brazil the animals in the closed or restricted region were not tagged. Paraguay has no tags and there is free movement of people and stock between the two jurisdictions.             ‘We’re saying that because of that and the lack of traceability and security there is no foundation in the regionalisation policy. Because they have no tagging and no movement controls they don’t meet equivalency standards to Europe. Imports to Europe are based on two principles, equivalency and regionalisation. We are saying that Brazil falls down on both.             The implications which farming in Brazil is having on the environment were also looked at. ‘We looked at the burning of rainforests. We visited farms in Mata Grosso that were recently deforested. There has been an economic change in Brazil. Soya bean and sugar cane production have got more profitable than cattle and a lot of ranchers in the other states are now converting to sugar cane.             ‘As they convert, the cattle are getting moved further north. They are being moved from high fertility land to low fertility land and farmers need double the land because it’s poorer land.             ‘On our way out, we visited the United States Department of Agriculture. We met them to go through what system they have for dealing with Brazil. Because there is foot-and-mouth in Brazil, they do not accept fresh or frozen meat from Brazil. They accept cooked meat because they believe cooking kills the disease. We met with their food safety people. They say threat of foot-and-mouth disease is too great and they weren’t happy with the residue tests.             ‘We found widespread use of antibiotics with no records kept and on one farm we found hormones, growth promoters. On six or seven of the ranches we found clear evidence of tag removal, the official SISPO tags had been removed.             ‘One of the things we found was ranchers with land in both restricted and unrestricted states. On no farm did they have any tags, so it’s very easy to move cattle between states.             ‘On our trip we visited 42 ranches and spent time on 15 of them. We have a DVD of the trip and have two and a half hours of footage on tape. We delivered that to the EU Commission and a report of the trip and copy of the DVD. Next Monday we will address the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament and present the findings, including the DVD and give an oral presentation of the findings. We feel that DG Sanco, the section that deals with Food Safety and has total responsibility for imports into the EU, isn’t treating this issue in relation to Brazil seriously.             ‘If that went on in Ireland or France or Germany, they would close down the farm, but yet they’re willing to receive beef from Brazil that meets none of the standards here. In our trip we were on several farms which had a couple of thousand cattle and no tags and they were cleared to export to Europe.’