Brazil to query US tests on processed meat imports

Mon May 31, 2010 7:29pm EDT

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BRASILIA, May 31 (Reuters) - Brazil will send a team of experts to the United States next week to seek clarification about the methods it uses to test processed meat imports for residues, the agriculture ministry said on Monday.

Brazil's government imposed a ban on exports of processed meat to the U.S. last week after a shipment of meat had to be recalled by meat packer JBS (JBSS3.SA) when U.S. authorities said it showed traces of a medicine exceeding the limit.

Nelmon Costa, director at the agriculture ministry's department for the inspection of animal-derived products said the ministry requested details on tests used on that beef but a methodology provided by the U.S. lacked key details.

"We have a meeting for June 7 and 8 in the U.S. to discuss this," he said, adding that he expected the issue would be resolved there and then and that exports would resume once the meeting ended.

In 2009, Brazilian exports of processed beef to the United States summed $223 million, roughly 5 percent of the more than $4 billion worth of beef shipped from the world's top beef producer to importers around the globe.

Costa said the test used was initially developed to test for residues in the liver of cattle, then later approved for tests on muscle tissue. He said there were doubts the test had ever been approved for use on heat-treated, processed meats.

"We want to know if some additive could interfere with the result. (The test) is not validated," he said, adding chemicals even from condiments could change the tests' outcome.

"In theory, it can change the result," he said.

The tests by U.S. authorities on the JBS shipment showed the presence of Ivermectin, a vermifuge or medicine used to expel intestinal worms, of between 10.3 and 14 parts per billion. The U.S. limit is 10 parts per billion while Brazilian regulation permits up to 100.

Costa did not expect the ban his ministry imposed to have a severe impact on local meat packers whose main source of revenue is production of fresh meat, rather than processed meat such as canned corned beef with a long conservation period.

"I don't think it has had a serious impact. They will be able to make up for it by sending their shipments later on," he said, adding that local companies were confident of a swift resolution to the problem.

Meat packer Marfrig (MRFG3.SA) said on Monday it would begin shipping canned meat to the United States from its plants in Uruguay and Argentina so its shipments could continue. Brazilian plants would continue serving other destinations. (Reporting by Peter Murphy; Additional reporting by Roberto Samora in Sao Paulo; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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