Brazil reacts after beef scandal

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: © Carlos Silva/Mapa
Picture: © Carlos Silva/Mapa

Related tags Brazil

The Brazilian government is to accelerate audits of 21 meatpacking plants as part of a police investigation into alleged corruption and tainted beef.

Three have been suspended and all will be placed under a ‘special inspection regime’ by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA - Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento).

Shipments from these plants will only be released after inspections by the ministry.

Bribes and tainted meat allegations

Police raided meat factories last week following a two-year long probe investigating whether companies paid bribes to hide unhygienic conditions and if rotten meat was sold.

They said 1,100 federal officers served 309 court orders in São Paulo, Distrito Federal, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Goiás.

Operation Carne Fraca targeted 21 sites - 18 in Paraná, two in Goiás and one in Santa Catarina.

It comes as the EU negotiates a trade agreement with the four founding members of Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay).

BRF, JBS, Peccin Agro Industrial Ltda, Frigorífico Rainha da Paz and JJZ Alimentos were among companies named.

MAPA said countries that received potentially affected product include the European Union, Argentina, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, USA and Russia.

The European Union, China and Chile have temporarily banned some imports of meat from Brazil.

​A few deviations by a few employees’

Michel Temer, President of Brazil, said of 11,000 employees, 33 are being investigated and of the 4,837 units subject to federal inspection only 21 are have possible irregularities.

He added of these that only six had exported product in the last 60 days.

“What is under investigation is not the agricultural inspection service - whose rigour is widely recognised - but rather a few deviations of conduct by a few employees in a very small number of companies,​” said Temer.

Blairo Maggi, minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, said the ministry will support the police investigation.

“Whoever is to blame, will answer for the issues. We cannot accept that the vast majority of businesses and civil servants that make up this great sector that is Brazilian agribusiness are put into question by a few, isolated people.”

Maggi said the ministry will conduct audits as part of the investigation.

“We will look at the findings of the investigation and trace back to understand how things happened. On the preventive side, for day-to-day monitoring, the inspectors will be there to make sure these procedures are being effectively followed for the shipment of these products.”

BRF clarifies Salmonella findings and JBS involvement

BRF confirmed two employees were arrested as a result of the investigation by the federal police.

Roney Nogueira dos Santos, institutional relations manager and André Baldissera, manufacturing officer for Goais, Minas Gerais and Matto Grosso were named in a statement.

Marfrig statement

Marfrig Global Foods said it was not targeted by the operation.

In Brazil, it has 11 production units that account for around 37% of sales, of which 60% is sold in the domestic market and 40% is exported to 100 countries.
Brazilian meat imports have been banned by China and Chile and Marfrig said these markets combined account for 8.8% of the sales of its Beef Brazil Division and 3% of the group’s total sales.

If the ban remains in place, the firm added it will be able to meet their needs primarily through plants in Uruguay and Argentina.

Operations at the factory in Mineiros, Goiás were suspended by the MAPA until BRF can certify the security and quality of products.

BRF said the Salmonella Saintpaul strain found in some lots of four containers sent to Italy was not in breach of legislation.

European Union regulation for the control of Salmonella in poultry states products cannot contain Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium.

The company expressed support for the inspection but added it must be ‘without generalizations that may harm the reputation of reputable companies and generate unnecessary alarm’​.

BRF said it is independently investigating corruption allegations and ‘appropriate measures’ would be taken if deviations are found.

JBS S.A. said no judicial measures had been taken against executives and its headquarters were not targeted. The operation involved three of JBS’ facilities; two in Paraná and one in Goiás.

In the Lapa facility, in the state of Paraná, a judicial measure was issued against a JBS-employed veterinarian, who does auxiliary inspections for the Ministry of Agriculture.

“JBS and its subsidiaries rigidly follow all regulatory guidelines in connection with the production and sale of food products in Brazil and globally, and supports all efforts aimed at punishing any violation.

“The company strongly repudiates any practices related to product adulteration or tampering, whether in the production or sale of products, and it is available to address any concerns with the authorities.”

ABIEC and ABPA on ‘isolated incidents’

The Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (ABIEC - Associação Brasileira das Indústrias Exportadoras de Carne) said none of its 29 member-companies' beef plants were named in the scandal.

ABIEC said Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter and sends product to more than 133 countries.

The association said the cases were ‘isolated incidents’ and it ‘vehemently repudiates’ practices that undermine the quality of Brazilian beef or credibility of the industry.

In 2016, Brazil sent 853,000 shipments of animal products to other countries. Of those, 184 were non-compliant by the importers due to labelling or incorrectly filled forms or certificates.

Francisco Turra, the president of the Brazilian Animal Protein Association (ABPA), voiced concerns the whole system may be affected.

“We cannot ‘contaminate’ all companies and brands, and denigrate four million jobs just in the poultry and swine industry, in addition to the six million who work with beef."

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