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U.S. bans imports of Brazilian beef over safety concerns

The United States has banned beef imports from Brazil.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the immediate suspension of fresh beef imports from the South American country on Thursday after inspections uncovered public health concerns, unsanitary conditions and animal health issues.

The agency said the ban will remain in place until Brazil “takes corrective action.”

Brazil is the fifth biggest supplier of beef to the U.S., ranking behind only Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. It has sent nearly 50 million pounds of beef to the U.S. so far this year.

“Although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers,” Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement.

The agency said it has been inspecting all meet imports from Brazil since March, and had refused entry to 11% of fresh beef products. It said that figure is “substantially higher” than the rejection rate from the rest of the world, which is around 1%.

Brazilian authorities weren’t immediately available for comment.

But José Augusto de Castro, president of the Foreign Trade Association of Brazil, said the ban was bad news for the industry.

“It took years to open the American market. It’s horrible news for us,” Castro told O Globo newspaper.

The U.S. is the ninth biggest market for Brazilian beef exporters.

Brazil’s beef production has been in turmoil for months, after it emerged some meat producers were allegedly paying bribes to inspectors to certify meat that was either rotten or tainted with salmonella.

China, Mexico, Chile, Japan, the European Union and Hong Kong banned imports of Brazilian meat in March.

In response, Brazil’s government shut down three plants and suspended the export licenses for 21 meat packing plants.