UPDATE 2-Brazil farm minister heads to U.S. over fresh beef ban

(Adds comments from industry group, finance minister, analyst and Marfrig)

SAO PAULO, June 23 (Reuters) - Brazil's agriculture minister prepared to travel to the United States on Friday to fight a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef, which hit shares of local meatpackers and revived concerns about the image of the world's largest beef exporter.

"We will fight for this market!" said the minister, billionaire soy baron Blairo Maggi, in a message posted to social networks late on Thursday. He said corrective measures were already being made to address the U.S. safety concerns.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's ban dealt a setback to Brazil's recently opened fresh beef trade with the United States and was another black eye after recent industry scandals.

Still, the ban did not affect the bulk of Brazilian beef imports, which are processed.

The USDA first cleared U.S. consumption of fresh beef from Brazil last year and it still represents just 1 percent of the industry's exports, according to Antonio Camardelli, head of the Brazilian meat exporters association Abiec.

Camardelli said problems flagged by the USDA were due to some steers' reaction to vaccines and that the industry was already making adjustments. But he said the setback hurt hopes of the USDA's earlier approval opening the door to bigger fresh beef importers such as Japan and South Korea.

"If you look at the financial aspect, it's important for the country, but the bigger damage is to our image," he said. "We worked a long time to open the U.S. market, because it's a passport to other markets."

Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said on Friday he expects the United States to lift the ban soon.

Since March, the USDA has rejected 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products, compared to the rejection rate of 1 percent for shipments from the rest of the world. The shipments, totaling about 1.9 million pounds, raised concerns about public health, animal health and sanitation, the USDA said.

Camardelli, head of the Brazilian meat exporters group, cited hidden abscesses in exported meat caused by an allergic reaction to a vaccine against foot-and-mouth disease. Meatpackers are now chopping beef into smaller cuts to be sure they catch such irregularities, he added.

Lygia Pimentel, head of agricultural consultancy Agrifatto, said Brazil is the only country exporting beef to the United States that does not have foot-and-mouth disease but still vaccinates for it.

Three months ago, Brazilian meatpackers were hit with a scandal involving alleged bribery of health officials, which briefly shut Brazil's protein exports out of major global markets from China to Europe.

Controlling owners of JBS SA also confessed to widespread bribery of Brazilian politicians, stoking a political crisis and triggering asset sales.

Shares of the world's largest meatpacker JBS and local rival Marfrig Global Foods SA both fell about 1 percent in early trading in Sao Paulo.

Marfrig said beef exports from Brazil to the U.S. market have contributed less than 1 percent of its revenue this year.

JBS declined to comment on the matter.

Rival Minerva SA, whose shares were flat, said it would ship fresh beef to the U.S. market from Uruguay rather than Brazil, adding that the change would not affect its export volumes. (Reporting by Roberto Samora and Bruno Federowski in Sao Paulo; Additional reporting by Thaís Freita in Sao Paulo and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Daniel Flynn and David Gregorio)