China’s buyers expect Brazil’s beef back soon despite BSE cases

A Western blot analysis, used to detect specific proteins in tissue samples, is used to confirm BSE in cattle. (Peggy Greb photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Beijing | Reuters — Chinese beef importers said Monday the suspension of exports by top supplier Brazil due to two cases of BSE has had no immediate market impact, with some still making purchases in anticipation of a quick resumption of trade.

Brazil said on Saturday it had confirmed two cases of ‘atypical’ bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in different states, and was suspending beef exports to China as part of a prior agreement on the issue with its top buyer.

Despite Brazil’s dominant 40 per cent share of China’s beef imports, prices had not moved by Monday and some importers were still looking for deals.

“We’re still buying, factories have to keep up their stocks,” said Grace Gao, general manager at Dalian-based importer Goldrich International.

In Brazil, the fourth-largest beef processor Frigol said Monday it would furlough workers at one of its plants for 15 days, with a source with knowledge of the matter telling Reuters the move was in response to the export suspension.

Frigol’s press office said the furloughs were due to a seasonal slowdown in Israeli demand and declined to comment on a possible connection to China exports. The company did not immediately give details about how many were furloughed.

‘Atypical’ BSE is considered to be of lower risk than the classical form of the disease, as it occurs naturally and only sporadically in older cattle. ‘Classical’ BSE is transmitted by contaminated feed and has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.

Brazil previously suspended exports for 10 days in 2019 after reporting an ‘atypical’ case.

“I assume the Chinese government won’t ban imports,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank. “Brazil is so important.”

China’s customs authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brazil has shipped more than 500,000 tonnes of beef to China from January to July this year, or 38 per cent of China’s total imports, Chinese customs data show, putting it far ahead of No. 2 supplier Argentina, which supplied just under 300,000 tonnes.

Global beef supplies are very tight and prices are already at record levels, added another large Chinese beef buyer.

“If this only lasts 15 days, there will be no impact at all. Brazil is still producing, and it takes two months to ship meat here anyway,” he added, declining to be identified because he is not permitted to talk to media.

While China’s imports of pork are falling because of a recovery in domestic supply, Chinese demand for beef continues to grow.

Ireland, a smaller beef supplier to China, reported a case of ‘atypical’ BSE in May last year. It has not yet been able to resume exports.

Reporting for Reuters by Dominique Patton in Beijing and Nayara Figueiredo in Sao Paulo.

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