Se­ri­ous Mer­co­sur meat food safety prob­lem con­tin­ues

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Stephen Cado­gan

Many EU cit­i­zens might have to pay for a trade deal with South Amer­i­can coun­tries with med­i­cal bills.

The deal would in­volve the EU tak­ing in­creased meat im­ports, mostly from Brazil, the world’s No 1 ex­porter of beef.

H o w e ve r , there are re­cur­ring food safety probl e m s i n m e at f ro m S o u t h Amer­ica.

Be­tween 11% and 16% of re­cent no­ti­fi­ca­tions of se­ri­ous health risk in food on the EU mar­ket was in meat from the Mer­co­sur coun­tries, al­ready ma­jor sup­pli­ers of beef and poul­try to the EU.

Th­ese food safety prob­lems led the US Depar tment of A g r i c u l t u r e to su s p e n d im­ports of fresh beef from Brazil last June.

In con­trast, EU diplo­mats are ready to of­fer Ar­gentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay ac­cess to the EU for 90,000 to 100,000 ad­di­tional tonnes of beef at re­duced im­port tar­iff rates, if that is what it takes for the EU to strike its big­gest ever trade deal, which has eluded it since ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan in 1999. How­ever, Mer­co­sur is look­ing for more than 200,000t of beef ac­cess.

It is nick­named the beef-for­cars trade deal in Brus­sels, be­cause ne­go­ti­a­tions in­clude E u r o p e a g r e e i n g to bu y enough South Amer­i­can beef at low im­port tax rates in turn for the other side cut­ting tax on EU ex­ports such as cars and ma­chin­ery. But how would the EU pro­tect its cit­i­zens from food safety prob­lems in Mer­co­sur meat, if a deal is agreed? It says all im­ports have to com­ply with the EU’s rig­or­ous food safety stan­dards, but ob­vi­ously that is not hap­pen­ing to­day.

The EU ne­go­tia­tors say agree­ment on food safety and an­i­mal and plant health will re­in­force co- op­er­a­tion with Mer­co­sur au­thor­i­ties, and speed up the flow of in­for­ma­tion about any po­ten­tial risks, in a more di­rect and ef f icient in­for­ma­tion and no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. Maybe this means the South Amer­i­cans will tip the EU off if any dodgy meat is on the way.

After months of in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it was un­cov­ered in 2 0 1 7 t h at Br a z i l i a n f o o d in­spec­tors were ac­cept­ing bribes to al­low ex­pired meat to be sold, and fal­si­fy­ing meat hy­giene per­mits. The US started turn­ing away Brazil­ian beef when 11% of the in­spected meat did not pass reg­u­la­tions, and later banned it en­tirely, with Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due stat­ing, “En­sur­ing the safety of our na­tion’s food sup­ply is one of our crit­i­cal mis­sions,” and “My first pri­or­ity is to pro­tect Amer­i­can con­sumers.” The EU is still tak­ing Brazil­ian beef and, in re­cent weeks, de­tected only one case where it was se­ri­ously con­tam­i­nated (with shi­ga­toxin-pro­duc­ing E coli in frozen beef, in Italy). How­ever, chilled bone­less beef from Uruguay was found to have the very same prob­lem, three times in the past two weeks, clas­si­fied as se­ri­ous in terms of health risk. And the big­gest re­cent of­fender in the EU is poul­try from Brazil. It was found se­ri­ously con­tam­i­nated with sal­monella bac­te­ria at least 17 times in the past four weeks. Through­out the past year, the EU’s Rapid Alert Sys­tem for Food and Feed had numer­ous no­ti­fi­ca­tions nearly ev­ery day of se­ri­ous health risk due to bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion of meats from Brazil.

The dan­gers of food poi­son­ing from Mer­co­sur meats don’t seem to reg­is­ter with the EU trade ne­go­tia­tors, nor with EU beef farm­ers, whose main fear in­stead is be­ing overw h e l m e d by Br a z i l , the world’s No 1 ex­porter of beef. Farm­ers also warn beef from Brazil has four times the car­bon foot­print of beef from Ire­land, so a Mer­co­sur deal would set back the EU’s car­bon-ef­fi­ciency.

This is a ner­vous week for farm­ers, with EU Com­mi­sion­ers for Trade and Agri­cul­ture Ce­cilia Malm­ström and Phil Ho­gan meet­ing the Mer­co­sur side in Brus­sels to try to close out a deal.

But any glitch could lead to yet an­other Mer­co­sur trade deal flop, be­cause Brazil will “close down” at the be­gin­ning of March for elec­tions which take place in Oc­to­ber, and the EU will go into elec­tion mode in 2019, choos­ing new com­mis­sion­ers and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. An­other Mer­co­sur trade deal flop is what farm­ers are hop­ing for, and it could be good news also for EU con­sumers wor­ried about food poi­son­ing.

An­other Mer­co­sur trade deal flop is what farm­ers are hop­ing for, and it could be good news also for EU con­sumers wor­ried about food poi­son­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.