Prepared by R-CALF USA
January 24, 2018
The U.S. no longer requires foreign countries to have meat safety inspection systems that are at
least equal to the U.S. system, and no longer do U.S. meat inspectors conduct monthly
inspections of foreign meatpacking plants. This is because the U.S. lowered its health and safety
bar for foreign countries when it entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Today,
the food safety systems of Canada, Mexico and other exporting countries need only be “close
enough,” under the WTO-relaxed standards of equivalency and relaxed inspection frequencies.
Thus, imported beef is allowed into the United States without being subjected to food safety
standards that are at least equal to U.S. standards. Further, food safety problems that arise in
foreign plants may not be identified by U.S. inspectors for many months. As a result, foreign
beef is less safe and less wholesome than beef produced exclusively in the United States.
Despite finding systemic weakness in Brazil’s meat safety system, the United States nevertheless
relaxed its import restrictions and began allowing raw beef from Brazil in August 2016.
Weakness identified in Brazil’s meat inspection system included failure to follow proper BSE
(mad cow disease) mitigation measures and failure to follow proper residue detection
procedures. Within a matter of months of importing raw Brazilian beef, U.S. citizens were
informed that Brazilian meatpackers were arrested for bribing food safety officials and exporting
tainted beef into the world beef market. Alarmingly, Brazilian meatpackers had been under
investigation by Brazilian police for two years prior to the arrests. Despite the clear danger
associated with Brazilian beef imports, the United States continued to allow importation of
undifferentiated raw Brazilian beef until pressure from R-CALF USA and other groups finally
caused the U.S. to halt Brazilian raw beef imports in June 2017, albeit several months after many
other importing countries had already banned Brazilian beef.
United States cattle farmers and ranchers produce cattle under more stringent health and
environmental standards than are required in foreign countries, and U.S. standards are getting
even stricter. For example, beginning in January 2017, U.S. cattle producers are required to
obtain veterinary authorization before feeding antibiotic supplements to their cattle under the
federal Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). Foreign cattle producers are not required to comply
with this more stringent production standard.
In May of 2016, ESPN.com news services warned NFL players that meat produced in China and
Mexico may be contaminated with the banned substance clenbuterol. It stated that at least one
NFL player tested positive for the substance after consuming meat in Mexico in 2014. It also
stated that five players on Mexico’s national soccer team tested positive in 2011 as a result of
consuming contaminated meat.
In the June 2015 Global News article, “Tainted lunch: Navigating gaps in Canada’s food safety
system,” the author references a U.S. audit report that gave Canada’s meat inspection system the
“lowest possible passing grade (“Adequate”) and found multiple instances where processing
plants weren’t in compliance with safety regulations.” In a more recent audit report of Canadian
meat plants, the U.S. found several weaknesses related to government oversight, sanitation and
microbiological testing that “raise significant questions” about Canada’s meat safety system that
will need to be addressed if Canada is to maintain equivalency with the U.S. system.
In 2013, several U.S. consumer groups explained that nine veterinary drugs banned in the U.S.
“due to human health concerns, particularly carcinogenicity and mutagenicity,” were
nevertheless being used elsewhere around the world. These drugs include nitrofural, fuazolidone,
chlorpromazine (thorazine), stilbenes (e.g., diethylstilbestrol, DES), olaquindox, dimetridazole,
ipronidazole, metronidazole and ronidazole. Thus, there is a higher risk that imported meat may
contain residue from one or more of these banned substances.
In January 2012, the Sidney Morning Herald reported that the antibiotic cephalosporins, which
was banned in the U.S. by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is still being used in Australia
to treat livestock intended for human consumption. Thus, there is a higher risk that meat
imported from Australia may contain residues of this banned antibiotic.
Also, although the pesticide DDT, which is classified as a B2 carcinogen, has been banned in the
U.S. since 1972, it is still used in certain cattle-producing regions around the world to control
such diseases as malaria, including in South America, Africa and Asia. Thus, as with
clenbuterol, there is a higher risk that imported meat is derived from animals that have ingested
this banned substance.
The foregoing examples both substantiate and prove our assertion that imported beef is less safe
and less wholesome than domestic beef that is exclusively born, raised and harvested in the
United States. It should be self-evident that United States consumers deserve the opportunity to
buy beef produced in the country of their choosing.