Brazil says Egypt never restricted its beef over mad cow

BRASILIA Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:11pm EST

BRASILIA Dec 27 (Reuters) - Egypt never restricted Brazilian beef imports after the confirmation of a case of atypical mad cow disease in the world's top exporter of the meat, Brazil's agriculture ministry said on Thursday, retracting an earlier statement.

The ministry said on Dec. 17 that Egypt, a major importer of Brazilian meat, had suspended imports from the Brazilian state of Parana, where the case was confirmed.

South Africa, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have banned imports of Brazilian beef since local media reported the case earlier this month.

Brazilian diplomats in Egypt had reported back to their government in mid-December that Egypt would impose a partial or full suspension on beef imports from Brazil, but Brazilian officials said on Thursday there had been a misunderstanding.

The agriculture ministry clarified in a statement that Egypt had never banned beef imports from Brazil.

Brazil has been scrambling to reassure buyers of its beef over the case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which was confirmed this month in an elderly cow that died in 2010 of other causes and never entered the food chain.

The 13-year-old grass-fed animal, which had been kept for breeding purposes, never developed BSE but tested positive for the protein that causes the disease.

Brazil has been at pains to distinguish this case of "atypical BSE", caused by a random genetic mutation more common in elderly cattle, from BSE cases in the 1980s and 1990s in Britain and elsewhere in Europe caused by contaminated animal feed.

The Paris-based World Animal Health Organization, which confirmed the atypical BSE diagnosis, has maintained Brazil's status as a beef producer with negligible risk of the disease.

On that basis, Brazil has said it will give the importing nations that have restricted imports of its beef until March to end those measures or it plans to pursue legal action through the World Trade Organization.

Russia, Brazil's single biggest buyer of beef, has not restricted imports.

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