A cattle farm in Brazil. Paulo Whitaker (REUTERS)
Brazil detected a case of the so-called
disease on Wednesday, and this Thursday immediately suspended beef exports to China, as mandated by a bilateral protocol for situations like this.
The disease was detected in a nine-year-old cow on a small farm in Marabá, in the State of Pará, in northern Brazil.
The animal was euthanized and cremated and the property was quickly isolated.
According to Brazilian authorities, he ate grass, making it less likely that he had developed the most dangerous form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The World Organization for Animal Health (OMAS) was quickly informed about the case and samples were sent to the reference laboratory of this institution in Canada, where in the next few days it will be clear how he contracted the disease.
There are two ways: the atypical, when it occurs spontaneously due to the cow's old age, or by contagion, when it eats feed made with contaminated animal protein, such as flour made from the meat and bones of other species.
In Brazil this practice is prohibited.
In 2022, Brazil exported $13 billion worth of beef, 42% more than the previous year, and China bought more than half of all that meat, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
The Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of the new Lula government, Carlos Fávaro, said in an interview with a radio station that it is "very likely" that it is the atypical version of the disease, which does not imply a risk of spreading to the rest of the the herd or transmission to humans.
In addition, he reassured the population by saying that there is no risk for consumption in any way.
Even so, hours after the case was confirmed, Brazil stopped exporting beef to China, its main buyer.
It is a protocol and preventive measure, since the Asian giant is one of the most demanding importers and has that agreement with Brazil.
In 2021, China spent more than 100 days without importing Brazilian beef after two cases of mad cow were detected in the states of Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais.
Now, the Brazilian authorities want to avoid at all costs a new blow that the veto could mean for the thriving livestock sector, one of the pillars of the national economy.
"When the market suspends its exports, it creates a certain fear, and that moves the meat market a little negatively, but our job is to act quickly and transparently to be able to return to normality as soon as possible," explained the minister.
The government is already mounting a diplomatic offensive to reassure its buyers, since China's veto could be imitated by other countries in the coming days, generating a worrying domino effect.
The minister and his collaborators will contact in the next few hours the agricultural authorities of other prominent importers, such as the United States, Chile, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Philippines to give explanations.
Two secretaries from the Ministry of Agriculture will travel immediately to Beijing to insist to the Chinese government that the consumption of beef from Brazil is safe, despite the case of mad cow.
The Brazilian government is confident that exports will already be normalized when the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, visits Beijing in the coming weeks, probably at the end of March.
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