Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture is investigating the new case of an animal with symptoms of a “nerve disease” that collapsed while at a slaughterhouse in Mato Grosso state, inciting concerns over its similarity to an atypical case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from 2010, which when reported in late 2012, led more than a dozen countries to temporarily ban Brazilian beef in 2013.
The animal was found slumped on the floor of a still unnamed slaughter facility in Mato Grosso. Based on its symptoms, agricultural inspectors killed the animal and sent samples of nervous tissue for analysis to a national agricultural laboratory, according to a Ministry statement. Nerve diseases could include rabies, botulism or a causative agent of BSE.
Like with the Parana case from 2010, the cow in Mato Grosso was more than 10 years old, greatly reducing the possibility of classic BSE, which mostly occurs in animals age 2-7 years. Brazil has never had a classic case of BSE, and maintains an “insignificant” risk status from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Cattle that contract the classic form of BSE usually do so through feed that contains meat and bone meal from other cattle, a form of feed that's banned in Brazil. In atypical cases, cattle spontaneously contract the disease, which primarily happens for those age 10 years or older.
No products derived from the animal entered the human or animal food chains, all hazardous materials were incinerated, and any other animals that came in contact with the cow in question have been identified and quarantined, the Ministry of Agriculture said.
Brazil's Ministry has already sent brain samples of the animal to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge, England, considered a lab of official record for such investigations. Documents on the case have also been sent to the OIE. New information on the case should be released next week, once the OIE's evaluation is complete.
Despite the stark differences in types of BSE cases, and repeated statements by the OIE that Brazil maintains the lowest risk status possible, any news or rumors of a BSE case can threaten Brazilian beef exports.
After news leaked in late 2012 of the Parana case from 2010, more than a dozen countries enacted temporary embargoes on Brazilian beef, some of which lasted through all of 2013. Countries like China and Saudi Arabia banned all Brazilian beef, and those two in particular maintain bans today. Others, including Egypt, banned only beef from Parana state, but most dropped the embargoes last year.
Brazil challenged countries like China, Japan and South Africa at the World Trade Organization in late 2013 for maintaining trade barriers to Brazilian beef due to the Parana case, even after OIE officials reaffirmed that Brazilian beef was safe.
An atypical case of BSE this time around would be even more damaging to Brazil, because Mato Grosso is one of the country's leading beef producer and exporter states. Its exports in the first quarter totaled 85,700 metric tons, a new record for the quarter.