On Friday, February 21, the United States reopened its border to fresh beef from Brazil after a more than two-year ban, according to a letter sent by the Food Safety and Inspection Service to the Brazilian agriculture minister, as reported by Bloomberg News. Negotiations between President Trump and President Bolsonaro began one year ago, and the two plan to meet next month in Brazil.
The move, which the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) warned against in April 2019, threatens U.S. national security and food safety, fuels the global expansion of the world’s largest beef companies, and flies in the face of the president’s “America first” agenda.
The U.S. beef processing industry is highly consolidated, with four corporations controlling 85% of the market. The two largest beef processors operating in the U.S, JBS and Marfrig, are Brazilian corporations. JBS has admitted it acquired the top spot by bribing 1,800 Brazilian politicians to acquire government-backed loans to purchase major U.S. processing plants. JBS’ market concentration in the beef, pork and poultry industry was gained through unfair and illegal competition.
The U.S. had closed its border to Brazilian beef after numerous concerns were raised about its safety. In 2017, JBS was caught bribing meat inspectors and exporting adulterated rotten meat worldwide. Because the U.S. no longer requires mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling on beef, and the USDA allows imported meat to be falsely labeled “Product of U.S.A.,” consumers will not be able to distinguish between U.S. beef and the new imports.
The news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that JBS plans to purchase U.S.-based Empire Packing Co. for $238 million, giving it control of five additional production facilities located in Ohio, Tennessee and Washington. In August 2019, JBS announced that while China had suspended the purchase of U.S. agricultural products, it turned to JBS’ Brazilian operations to supply its demand. JBS owner Wesley Batista stated that JBS has secured the ability to launch further acquisitions “mainly to supply the growing demand from China.” Just last month, JBS secured a new trade deal with China to sell over $700 million dollars worth of beef, pork, and poultry. Meanwhile, USDA has given JBS over $100 million in U.S. taxpayer bailout dollars meant for struggling farmers and ranchers impacted by the very trade war that is fueling JBS’ monopoly growth.
The U.S. is dealing Brazil’s global giants all the cards in the U.S. cattle industry. With the U.S. border open to Brazilian beef, Brazilian cattle buyers in the U.S. will have less incentive to pay U.S. ranchers a fair price for their cattle, since the buyers will now have the opportunity to bring in cheaper beef from Brazil. JBS has already been caught cheating America’s ranchers by paying them less than the real value for their cattle at three separate beef processing plants, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses per rancher.
The new Brazilian beef import deal will guarantee American prosperity to Brazilian corporate interests and take it away from U.S. ranchers and the rural communities where they live.
These problems could be mitigated by reining in corporations and their economic power, allowing an opportunity for U.S. farmers and ranchers to compete in fair and open markets. OCM continues to call on the White House, Congress, and regulatory agencies to reinstate mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, implement OCM’s “Product of U.S.A.” proposed rulemaking, and pass the Buy American Agriculture Act and the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.