The suspension of Brazilian beef exports to China following the discovery of mad cow disease could benefit New Zealand exporters, says the Meat Industry Association.
Mad cow disease, or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal neurological disease in cattle, is linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which affects the brain in humans.
Last week it was detected in a nine-year-old bull in the Brazilian state of Para in the north of the country, resulting in the immediate suspension of exports to China.
Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said the impact on NZ trade from Brazil’s suspension will depend how long it is in place.
When BSE was last discovered in the Brazilian beef herd in 2021, exports were suspended for three months.
“If the case is an atypical form of the disease, which is indicated, the suspension may not last long and may have limited impact on trade,” she said.
“However, if it is a longer suspension, China will need to source beef from other suppliers.”
Initial testing confirmed the presence of BSE in the small Brazilian herd, but further tests are required to determine if it is atypical BSE, as was the case in September 2021 when it was detected in an older cow.
Canadian research has determined that atypical BSE affects some older cattle. While fatal, there is no evidence atypical BSE can be transmitted to humans.
Karapeeva said that last year NZ exported record volumes of beef to China of just under 220,000 tonnes, accounting for 45% of total NZ beef exports for the year by volume.
This is dwarfed by Brazil, the world’s largest beef export, which last year exported around 1.3 million tonnes of beef to China.
She said NZ is well positioned.
“In 2022 we were the fourth largest beef exporter to China, behind Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
“So New Zealand along with these other South American exporters, could benefit if there is a longer suspension.”
NZ beef exports to China increased at the end of 2021, the last time Brazil was suspended, but it was not significant.
Karapeeva said another factor is that while some Brazilian consignments for China will be likely be held until the suspension is lifted, some Brazilian beef may end up going into other markets.
“Brazil does not have access to other major markets, so there could be an increase in Brazilian beef exports into some of our smaller markets like Indonesia, which has recently approved a number of Brazilian beef plants.”