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Brazil moves to reassure over BSE

By Carina Perkins , 13-Dec-2012
Last updated on 13-Dec-2012 at 10:56 GMT

Brazilian agriculture officials have offered reassurances over the safety of Brazilian beef, following confirmation of the country’s first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announced last week that a sample taken from a breeding cow that died two years ago in the Brazilian state of Parana had tested positive for the disease. Japan immediately banned imports of Brazilian beef, stating the ban would remain until authorities had more information on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Officials from Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) met with Japanese authorities yesterday to deliver a full veterinary and technical report in the hope of lifting the ban. MAPA said it would organise further technical missions to Brazil’s 20 major trading partners, and that bilateral meetings would take place in Paris and Geneva in coming weeks.

“The government as a whole has been mobilised to give a full explanation about what happened, so there are no doubts about the security of animal health protection systems,” said José Carlos Vaz, executive secretary of MAPA.

Brazilian secretary of the Agriculture Defence Ministry, Ernie Marque, described the case as an “old and isolated occurrence”. He said no other cases of BSE had ever been detected the country, with 25,000 laboratory tests conducted since 2004.

Guilherme Marques, director of Brazil’s Department of Animal Health, pointed that the OIE still recognised Brazil as having a “negligible BSE risk”.

Long delay

According to the official OIE notification, Brazilian veterinary officials were originally called to check on the cow in December 2010, after it showed signs of limb stiffness, but the cow died before they arrived atthe farm. The officials originally suspected rabies and sent off samples for laboratory analysis. The samples tested negative for rabies, so they were then tested for BSE, as is standard procedure in suspected neurological diseases.

The reported stated that a histopathological test returned a negative result for BSE, but the sample was then sent for analysis by the National Reference Laboratory, National Agricultural Laboratory (LANAGRO-PE) in Recife, where it tested positive for BSE on 15 June 2012 by an immunohistochemical test. The sample was then sent to the UK laboratory, where further immunohistochemical testing confirmed the presence of BSE on 6 December 2012.

Brazilian authorities said the 18-month delay between the histopathological and immunohistochemical tests occurred because a combination of a work overload at its testing laboratory and OIE rules, which had led to the sample being classified as low priority for diagnosis.

However, US livestock group R-CALF USA claimed the time delay was unacceptable and demonstrated failures in the OIE system. “The two-year delay in Brazil’s disease notification is a symptom of the failure of the OIE’s global system that erroneously assumes foreign countries, particularly developing countries, have the same means, commitment and capabilities as the US to control and eradicate diseases,” said Max Thornsberry, chair of R-CALF USA’s Animal Health Committee.

The group has written a letter to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to impose an immediate ban imports of ruminants and ruminant products from Brazil.

“With this mandatory change to Brazil’s disease status, Brazil is not eligible to import into the US ruminants that have been in Brazil, meat, meat products and edible products other than meat,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard in the letter.

“Further, until USDA conducts a thorough assessment of the risk of introducing BSE into the US from Brazil and further conducts a public rule-making, with notice and opportunity for comment should USDA propose to include Brazil as a country with a minimal risk of BSE, Brazilian imports of ruminants and ruminant products must be prohibited.”