Brazil seeking 1,600 more meat inspectors, official says

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil on Tuesday conceded that the government needs 1,600 more inspectors at meatpacking facilities but also questioned the swift ban imposed by the United States on shipments of fresh Brazilian beef.

A worker unloads beef meat from a truck in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Luis Rangel, Brazil’s plant and animal health secretary, told Reuters in an interview that Brazilian beef suppliers were still working to adapt to stricter requirements of the U.S market. He said some problems raised by U.S. food safety authorities “would be tolerated in other markets” and that no system was infallible.

Last week, the U.S. government blocked imports of Brazilian fresh beef, less than a year after opening the market to the product. U.S. officials said inspections of arriving shipments uncovered defects such as abscesses, prohibited tissues and unidentified material in the meat.

Last week, Brazilian officials said most problems with the meat stemmed from vaccinations and were being addressed. On Monday, a local union said the industry lacked enough inspectors to insure product safety, and blamed government budget cuts.

Rangel said there is a shortage of inspectors. He said the ministry was seeking funding to hire 1,600 new inspectors, an increase of more than 50 percent from the current number of 2,800.

“The American market is the most demanding among the markets we serve, so the Brazilian companies will have to adapt, will have to follow the requirements very closely,” said Rangel.

“We are already making some changes after the issues raised by the U.S. authorities. They will solve most problems and will open the way for a solution,” he added.

The U.S. move against the world’s largest beef exporter surprised Brazilian officials, who said they would work with U.S. authorities on a roadmap to allow for beef shipments to resume.

Brazilian officials said abscesses found in the shipments could have been caused by vaccination against foot and mouth disease. Rangel said exporters do not always cut the front part of an animal into small enough pieces, making it harder to identify these problems in some shipments.

“We already changed that for the whole chain. Every processor will have from now on to cut that front part in pieces, to better identify those problems,” he said.

He maintained that U.S. officials did not give Brazil adequate time to adapt to the country’s strict import requirements, saying the swift decision to ban the product was unusual considering international trade negotiations.

“There was a mission from the USDA here less than a month ago. We thought the visits, the talks were good. The report from that is not even out yet and they decided to close the market,” said Rangel.

The official said Brazil was working out with the United States the next steps to solve the issues, saying regaining access to the U.S. market was a priority.

Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by David Gregorio