Mad cow disease: Beef exports on hold as fatal illness found – global supply crisis looms

Brazil ’second highest Covid death toll in the world’ says expert

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The country’s Ministry of Agriculture said a halt to beef exports will begin immediately. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, with China its biggest customer. The temporary suspension was taken under an existing bilateral protocol between the two countries, but the ministry stressed there was “no risk to human or animal health”.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is an incurable and invariably fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle.

Later in the course of the disease the cow becomes unable to function normally.

Spread to humans can happen by eating food contaminated with it which is believed to result in variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD).

As of 2019, 232 people worldwide are known to have become sick with vCJD, and unfortunately, they all have died.

Mad cow disease was detected in Brazil

Mad cow disease was detected in Brazil (Image: GETTY)

Two cases have been confirmed by authorities

Two cases have been confirmed by authorities (Image: GETTY)

The two cases in Brazil were dubbed “atypical” since the disease appeared “spontaneously and sporadically, unrelated to the ingestion of contaminated food”.

They were identified during health inspections in Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso states in aged cattle.

Mad cow disease first appeared in the UK in the Eighties and spread to many countries in Europe and around the world, causing consumer alarm and triggering a serious crisis in the beef industry.

The disease was spread widely by farmers feeding cattle with the meat and bone meal of dead and infected animals.

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Cows can become disorientated and confused

Cows can become disorientated and confused (Image: GETTY)

Efforts to prevent the disease in the UK include not allowing any animal older than 30 months to enter either the human food or animal feed supply.

In Europe, cattle over 30 months must be tested if they are intended for human food.

The majority of non-EU beef imports to the UK were sourced from South American countries with a total of 3,330 tonnes imported from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in 2020. 

According to Meat Promotion Wales, Brazil accounts for around one percent of total UK beef imports in any given year. 

And while we don’t rely heavily on Brazil itself, even Britons may feel the knock-on effect of tightened global supplies.

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The disease has been known to pass on to humans

The disease has been known to pass on to humans (Image: GETTY)

It could impact global supplies

It could impact global supplies (Image: GETTY)

Meat industry analyst Simon Quilty said: “It will make the supply of beef around the world very tight as we come into the strongest period of demand for the year globally.”

According to Mr Quilty, Brazil exports an average of 71,000 tonnes of beef to China each month and the market is expecting exports to be suspended for at least two weeks.

And ongoing tensions between Australia and China could make the situation worse.

Former Meat and Livestock Australia chairman and North Queensland grazier Don Heatley said: “Under normal circumstances if an issue like this arose, you’d expect that there would be a flow-on effect to Australia’s benefit.

“I’d be a little uncertain about trying to forecast exactly how the Chinese [government] would react to the situation and one of the key issues is how long will this ban on exports from Brazil stay in place?”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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