[R-G] Brazil: Vegetarian cows don't get mad, and they are harder (but not impossible) to sanction
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jan 8 07:13:28 MST 2004
Vegetarian Cows Don't Go Mad
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 7 (IPS) - In the era of mad cow disease, the
ability to certify that your cattle are purely vegetarian constitutes
an indispensable weapon for beef exporters like Brazil.
That conviction prompted the governmental Brazilian Agricultural
Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to develop, in its Centre of Genetic
Resources in Brasilia, a fast, effective method to detect the presence
of animal protein in livestock feed.
Brazil benefited by the lengthy drought that has devastated cattle
producers in Australia, overtaking that country as the world's biggest
beef exporter, selling 1.3 million tons in 2003, 30 percent more than
Brazil's stockbreeding industry has made progress in terms of both
productivity and quality in the past few years.
But the country's cattle producers have also been favoured by the
appearance of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
(BSE), which first emerged in the 1980s among European cattle raised
in feedlots and fed ration containing meat and bonemeal.
In Brazil and other South American countries, cattle are grass- and
range-fed, and their diets are supplemented by feed made up
exclusively of grains, which means they are considered immune to BSE.
But that has not kept the country safe from the ''terrorism of
rumours'', such as the one that circulated in 2001 after Canadian
authorities refused to rule out the presence of mad cow disease in
Brazil, Carlos Block, one of the experts who developed the new EMBRAPA
technique to identify the presence of animal protein in livestock
feed, told IPS.
The researcher was referring to Canada's decision to cut off imports
of Brazilian beef, based on the argument that it had not received
information on Brazil's livestock requested three years earlier.
Canadian authorities asserted that the risk of BSE could not be ruled
out in Brazil because it had imported European livestock.
But the Brazilian government interpreted the Canadian measure -- which
was automatically extended to the United States and Mexico, its
partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- as a
At the time, the two countries were involved in a heated dispute in
the World Trade Organisation (WTO), mutually accusing each other of
unfairly subsidising exports of regional jets.
Canada's Bombardier and Brazil's Embraer aircraft manufacturers are
competitors in the market for medium-sized airplanes.
To defend its growing exports of beef, Brazil decided to implement a
national livestock tracing or cattle-tracking system, and to develop a
method to monitor the ration fed to cattle, to ensure that it does not
contain cattle or sheep by-products or other forms of animal protein,
said Block, a biologist who specialises in the study of proteins.
The method developed by EMBRAPA is more advanced than the ones used in
the rest of the world, he maintained, because it allows the detection
and identification of traces of animal protein within hours.
The innovative technique is based on mass spectrometry, used to
identify proteins, Block explained.
The low cost of the test makes it easy to monitor the livestock feed
produced by some 700 plants in Brazil by periodically analysing
The expense is insignificant in comparison to the billions of dollars
at stake in the competition for beef markets, said Block.
Systematic use of the test would ensure that the animal feed consumed
by cattle in Brazil contains no animal proteins, not even traces left
by poorly-cleaned machines, thus guaranteeing that Brazilian cattle
are safe from the risk of contracting BSE.
The three other methods developed in other countries to monitor
livestock feed for animal protein use microscopic examination, the
identification of pork protein antibodies, and DNA analysis.
But according to Block, the techniques are not as effective, and often
take too long to produce results.
EU experts who visited Brazil to assess the quality of local livestock
acknowledged the superiority of the Brazilian method, he said.
Block recommends that the technique be extended to neighbouring
Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, in order to certify that the entire
Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc is a BSE-free area, as
insurance against possible rumours or sabotage.
Brazil's weight in agricultural trade, in which it is the world's
leader in commodities like coffee, sugar, soybeans, and now beef,
makes it a potential target of protectionist measures or other actions
to undermine its competitiveness, said Agriculture Minister Roberto
BSE swept through Europe's livestock, and is now threatening cattle in
the United States, which reported the first case on Dec. 23.
The disease first appeared in 1986 in British cattle fed ration
containing bonemeal from sheep. Infected animals, whose brains
eventually take on a sponge-like consistency, suffer motor function
changes, and loss of large movements, such as walking. The disease is
But the panic began to spread around the world 10 years later, when
consumption of beef from infected animals was linked to a similar
fatal, degenerative disease in humans known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob
The alarm was triggered by the deaths of several young people, because
CJD had previously only affected the elderly. CJD has claimed the
lives of a total of 153 people around the world who had eaten
Millions of head of cattle were slaughtered in Europe, especially
Britain, to get mad cow disease under control.
The appearance of the first case of BSE in the United States could
give a boost to the beef exports of Brazil and the rest of the members
of the Mercosur, because at least 30 countries have suspended imports
of U.S. beef.
But some analysts predict an initial fall in prices and consumption.
The United States is the world's third-largest exporter of beef,
exporting 1.1 million tons a year. Its biggest markets, Japan and
South Korea, do not import beef from the Mercosur due to health
concerns arising from outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the past
But Brazil will benefit in other ways, by expanding exports of
soybeans, which are increasingly used in animal feed, and of chicken,
the consumption of which should rise due to fear of eating beef
infected with mad cow disease. (END/2004)
Mad Cow - Opportunity or Threat for Latin America?
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