Brazil resumes exporting meat to major markets
While the Brazil meat scandal is still on the radar, the drama surrounding arrests, bribery allegations, international food-safety, and tainted meat, which hit the press March 17, seems to be subsiding. A number of countries have lifted the Brazil meat ban, but the scandal has taken its toll, with Brazilian beef imports falling by 19 percent, the week ending March 25, according to the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services.
The Brazil Federal Police investigation and closure of processing plants did grow to six, of the 21 under investigation. The other 15 plants are not allowed to export, but can produce for Brazil’s domestic market.
JBS SA, the world’s largest protein producer, temporarily suspended production at 33 of its 36 Brazilian production facilities last week. Brazil has nearly 5,000 meat processing facilities throughout the country. Plans for the company to ease restrictions are in the works. According to a company statement, they plan to adjust inventory after temporary export bans and a drop in domestic sales.
Bans and restrictions from importing countries, such as Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Uruguay, began immediately, but most have already begun to lift.
Hong Kong, the largest destination for Brazilian beef, was the latest to ease restrictions.
“It brings relief for the industry,” said Francisco Turra, a former minister of agriculture who now heads the Brazilian Animal Protein Association. The move also “reduces the possibility of supply glut in domestic market.”
March 25, China announced the total reopening of the market for Brazilian meats.
“Regularization of the product trade shows mutual trust between the two countries,” stresses Blairo Maggi, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister. “It is a categorical statement of the solidity and quality of the Brazilian sanitary system and a victory of our export capacity.”
The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Map) and the network of Brazilian embassies abroad worked tirelessly for the companies valuable meat industry.
“China never closed the market to our products, but only took preventive measures so that we had the opportunity to offer all the necessary explanations and to guarantee the quality of our sanitary inspection. We are grateful for the gesture of confidence of China, our strategic partner, in the credibility of the Brazilian system,” Maggi said.
According to Maggi, none of the 174 samples collected in 22 states since Operation Meat provide evidence of meat that’s unfit for human consumption.
Despite that, according to reports, a total of 45 nations implemented some kind of restrictions on imports from Brazil. By Tuesday, March 29, only 13 remained closed, accounting for only 5 percent of Brazil meat exports.
The European Union is still asking for more information on the investigation and calling for new regulations, according to Maggi, but the attention on the investigation has shifted away from the meat safety issue, focusing more on the alleged corruption.
While the investigation is an important probe, the way it was announced was “jumbled” and exaggerated, Louis Boudens, the head of the national federal police association, said in a March 25 website post.
Dubbed Carne Fraca — “The Flesh is Weak” — for a Biblical reference aimed at the health officials who allegedly succumbed to temptation by accepting bribes; the two-year long investigation came out Friday, March 17, when officials said they had evidence of at least 40 incidents. The BBC reported that federal police carried out raids in 194 locations, deploying more than 1,000 officers. Investigators allege that managers bribed health inspectors and politicians for product certification, overlooking expired meats.
Brazil media has switched focus to a government health inspector, Daniel Gouviea Teixeira, who, according to reports, found the evidence of marrow, bone and other slaughterhouse excess, added to by-products for human consumption. Teixeira reported the problems to the Federal Police, and was promptly fired from his plant inspector job. This prompted investigation on alleged bribery in the Brazilian meat industry.
While the urgency has subsided, there is still pressure in the U.S. to ban Brazilian imports.
Members of the Safe Food Coalition asked the USDA to reconsider its decision to continue allowing Brazilian meat and poultry products to enter the country.
“Allegations of alarming practices—including company officials dictating the placement of health inspectors, health certificates being falsified, the use of cancer-causing chemicals to disguise rotting meat, and the shipment of contaminated meat to Europe—have led major U.S. trading partners to implement partial or total bans on meat products from Brazil,” the organization wrote March 29.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture-designate Sonny Perdue said a Brazilian embargo was not necessary, as USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection service vamped up testing on Brazilian meat imports. In addition, no shipments to the U.S. were from any of the targeted facilities.
“Keeping food safe for American families is our top priority,” said Mike Young, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “FSIS has strengthened the existing safeguards that protect the American food supply as a precaution and is monitoring the Brazilian government’s investigation closely.”
But the additional measures are not enough, according to some politicians and groups.
Sen. Heidi Heinkamp, D-ND, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, have called for a U.S. ban on Brazilian meat.
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation that would place a 120-day ban on the importation of Brazilian beef to the U.S. in order to allow the USDA to thoroughly investigate the matter while keeping the domestic supply safe.
“We must take decisive action to ensure no family in Montana or anywhere else in this country is exposed to the danger of deceptive Brazilian beef processors,” Tester said in a press release.
In August of last year, Tester criticized the USDA’s decision to allow Brazilian beef in the U.S. In 2015, Tester successfully blocked the importation of Brazilian beef from regions where foot-and-mouth disease was prevalent.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) issued their own letters to the Administration calling for a halt on Brazil shipments and increased scrutiny. The letters ask the USDA-FSIS to report any shipments that have arrived in the U.S. and protocol taken to ensure the U.S. meat supply is safe moving forward.
“These half-measures “will expose American consumers to unnecessary risks, and American taxpayers to unnecessary costs,” according to the coalition,” Safe Food Coalition wrote.
A class action shareholders lawsuit against JBS, has also been brought by New York City-based Rosen Law Firm. It claims “JBS executives bribed regulators and politicians to subvert food inspections of its plants and overlook unsanitary practices such as processing rotten meat and running plants with trace of salmonella.”
The lawsuit says the action caused JBS stock to suffer significantly, and that JBS misled stockholders and bribed meat inspectors and politicians.