Brazil has suspended beef exports to China after confirming two cases of “atypical” mad cow disease in two separate domestic meat plants.
The halt to beef export begins immediately, the agriculture ministry said in a statement on Saturday, adding Beijing will decide when to begin importing again.
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The temporary suspension was taken under an existing bilateral protocol between the two countries, although the ministry stressed there was “no risk to human or animal health”.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, with China its biggest customer. More than half of Brazil’s beef export goes to China and Hong Kong.
The two cases were “atypical” since the disease appeared “spontaneously and sporadically, unrelated to the ingestion of contaminated food”, the ministry said.
The two bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases were identified during health inspections in Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso states in aged cattle.
“Brazil has never recorded a classic case of BSE,” said the ministry, which officially notified the World Organization for Animal Health.
In June 2019, Brazil also temporarily suspended its exports of cattle to China after an atypical case of BSE was detected in Mato Grosso in a 17-year-old cow.
Mad cow disease first appeared in the United Kingdom in the 1980s 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.
People then died after contracting the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, understood to be passed along by consuming infected beef.