Beefy Brazilians

Now that the summer Olympics are starting, everyone wants to go to Rio. Going to Rio is a bit more complicated for US citizens than people from other nationalities, since they are required a Brazilian visa regardless of the purpose of their visit. However, on August 1st, traveling to Brazil was just made easier for Americans… well, for American cows at least.

Last week, the US and Brazil sealed an agreement to allow access to each other’s beef market. The bilateral flow of beef is expected to start in 90 days. For the first time since 1999 American beef will be exported to Brazil and the US will allow imports of fresh and frozen Brazilian beef.

I you have been following stories on the Rio Olympics you may have one idea on your mind: hygiene and health safety standards–or, more precisely, lack of them. According to a recent story [1], swimmers need to ingest only 3 teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus. A report revealed that the water in Rio’s Olympic venues hold viral levels 1.7 million times what would be considered alarming in the US and Europe.

If Brazilian authorities do not control the safety of their water, what guarantee is there that their food safety system meets its purpose? The American National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has questioned the rigor of the risk-evaluation protocols conducted before the agreement took place. The most important concern expressed by the NCBA regards the Foot-and-Mouth Disease [2]. The FMD is highly infectious and its containment demands considerable efforts in vaccination, strict monitoring, quarantines, and occasionally, the killing of animals. The US cattle herd has not been exposed to FMD since 1929; hence, new exposure of US herds to the FMD could devastate the industry.

Nevertheless, these are just concerns expressed by a group that is coincidentally directly impacted by increased competition from Brazilian beef producers. The Food Safety and Inspection Service has rendered the Brazilian food safety system governing meat products equivalent to that of the US. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture recognizes in Brazil an excellent economic opportunity for US beef exporters.

The US is the largest producer of beef in the world followed by Brazil. Together, they account for roughly 35.5 percent of the world’s beef production, with the US producing 19 percent and Brazil 16 percent [3]. Yet, Brazilians are larger beef consumers, in per capita terms, than Americans. In a given year, the average Brazilian consumes around seven more pounds of beef than the average American [3]. Thus, gaining access to a market of around 200 million beef eaters does not sound too bad for American exporters after all.

Furthermore, beef consumption by volume in the US seems to be in decline largely due to the increased popularity of substitute leaners meats such as fish and poultry [5]. In 2015, beef and veal consumption in the US fell by 3 percent relative to 2014.

Overall, it seems that public awareness of the environmental impacts associated with red meat production, together with harmful effects on health associated with too much beef consumption is driving this downward trend.

It appears that red meat production is disastrous for the environment. One third of global greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, half of that coming from livestock herding with beef production accounting for a heavy share of that portion as it uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork of chicken production [6].

Calls for people to eat less meat in order to help the environment are ubiquitous and controversial. The UN has urged the environmental assembly to consider recommending a tax on meat producers and sellers so that beef price reflects these harmful impacts [7]. Meanwhile, health experts say the US could cut heath care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars if people ate less meat [8].

Food safety standards aside, American beef producers may be very welcoming of this new trade deal with Brazil. After all, lately, it seems that the only really reasonable excuse to eat red meat in America is that it is gluten free.













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