US Ban of Brazil Beef Blow to Nation Reeling From Economic Woes, Political Scandal

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The U.S. suspension of beef imports from Brazil is a blow to a nation reeling from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, as well as from a political scandal that threatens to topple its president.

The United States on Thursday announced the suspension of all imports of beef products from South America’s largest nation over safety concerns.

The announcement from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue comes three months after a scandal involving allegations that meat inspectors in Brazil took bribes, leading to several countries temporarily halting imports.

In a statement, Perdue said that since March, U.S. inspectors have refused entry to 11% of Brazilian fresh beef products, or about 1.9 million pounds.

The statement said the suspension will remain in place until Brazil’s agricultural ministry takes action.

The statement acknowledged that Brazil had addressed concerns of American inspectors by prohibiting five facilities from shipping beef to the United States. However, the United States said Brazil’s action didn’t go far enough.

The suspension is a major embarrassment to a country that prides itself on its beef exports, as it was a bright spot in an economy struggling to recover. Brazil was the world’s largest producer of beef and veal in 2016 and one of the top exporters, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The United States is not a major importer of Brazilian beef, but its decision to suspend beef imports carries weight.

The suspension of beef imports to the United States adds to pressure on President Michel Temer, who is facing allegations of corruption in a scandal many have called Brazil’s Watergate. Thousands of Brazilians have marched in protest against Temer, who has resisted calls to resign.

In March, Brazilian authorities said they were probing inspectors who allegedly allowed expired meats to enter the market in exchange for bribes. Among the countries that stopped buying Brazilian beef was China, a major importer.

Most of the nations that suspended beef purchases resumed them within a few weeks after they were reassured by Brazilian authorities.