Philadelphia port gets first beef from Brazil since a ban between nations was dropped

Philadelphia port gets first beef from Brazil since a ban between nations was dropped

Updated: October 13, 2016 — 5:52 PM EDT

The JBS beef processing plant in Brazil. The company will be sending beef to the U.S. via Philadelphia, with the first arrival due Friday.

by Linda Loyd, Staff Writer @LoydLinda

Where’s the beef? Well, now it’s coming from Brazil.

The first 57,000 pounds of fresh and frozen beef from the city of Campo Grande will arrive early Friday at the Port of Philadelphia. After more than a decade of negotiations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and officials from Brazil agreed on Aug. 1 to drop bans in place for years, following outbreaks of deadly cattle-borne diseases, allowing two-way trade in beef to resume between the two ranching nations.

If everything goes well, the target is 5.5 million pounds a month of trimmings for ground beef and cuts such as steaks to sail from Itapoa, a port in southern Brazil, to Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia, said Juergen Pump, senior vice president of Hamburg Sud North America, the shipping line that will bring the meat along with other cargoes every week.

Philadelphia will not be the only port to receive the beef. Miami also got a small shipment this week, after the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service determined that Brazil’s safety system for meat products was "equivalent" to that of the U.S. An agreement was reached with Brazil’s agriculture ministry that also knocked down barriers to U.S. exports.

JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processors and exporters, will import the beef through the Philadelphia port.

"Based on scientific evidence, both countries were able to finally come to the conclusion that the products are totally safe for their consumers," said Luiz Claudio Caruso, agriculture attache at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington. He will join officials from Hamburg Sud, the port, Packer terminal, Mullica Hill Cold Storage, and JBS to welcome the first vessel, the Monte Aconcagua, on Friday.

The frozen meat will be stored and re-inspected by the USDA at Mullica Hill Cold Storage in New Jersey.

"Historically, Brazil was allowed to bring in canned and cooked beef, but not raw product," said Dan Sorbello, director of Mullica Hill’s North American protein imports. "In my 20 years, this will be my first experience with Brazilian raw beef coming into the United States."

In addition to JBS, two other Brazilian companies were approved to export fresh beef, said Laurie Bryant, executive director of the Meat Import Council of America. "Any importer can bring it in; it’s a matter of what companies in Brazil are allowed to export. Currently, eight plants are approved for fresh and frozen exports in Brazil. JBS has three of them."

The U.S. has a quota system for imported beef. The largest volumes, 400,000 tons and 360,000 tons, come from Australia and New Zealand, respectively. The quota for Uruguay, Argentina, Nicaragua, Costa Rica – and now Brazil – is 64,000 tons of beef into the U.S. a year, "which has to be shared between the various countries," said Pump at Hamburg Sud.

"The way it works is first come, first served. So Brazil is competing now with the other countries for the 64,000 tons," Pump said. "The expectation is since Brazil is a major producer of beef, they will have the resources to become a significant player in the United States. JBS, the importer, happens to be also a Brazilian company so I think they will try to ramp up their business volume here."

About 10 percent, and sometimes a little more, of the meat that Americans eat is imported, Bryant said.

Eric Holt, whose family runs Packer Avenue terminal, said that JBS has been Packer’s largest beef customer for the last 30 years, shipping beef from Australia and New Zealand to Philadelphia and selling to other importers. "They also export poultry and pork from here to other parts of the world."

"It’s a current customer to the port, but a new sourcing lane, an additional volume on the current service," Holt said.

The Philadelphia port specializes in handling refrigerated cargo, including fruits and vegetables. The new commodity "will work right into our wheel house because the port does so much refrigeration," said Sean Mahoney, marketing director at the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, which owns piers and terminals on the Delaware River.

"We have 13 USDA sites around Philadelphia that are set up to certify beef coming into the country," Mahoney said.

The first shipment into Philadelphia "marks a significant and long-awaited commercial breakthrough for the country of Brazil and for JBS," said Miguel Gularte, president of JBS Mercosur.

"The U.S. is globally recognized for its high food-safety standards and health requirements for the importation of agricultural products," he said. "JBS’s participation in this strategic export market opens a new frontier for our quality beef products."