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20/03/17: Brazil says exports safe despite rotten meat scandal

CaptureBrazil tried to reassure the world Sunday that its huge meat industry poses no threat – with President Michel Temer even inviting ambassadors to a steak dinner – despite allegations that corrupt exporters sold tainted products.

Temer smiled as he invited diplomats to a traditional Brazilian meat restaurant called a churrascaria, saying “if you accept the invitation we will be very happy”. Nineteen of the 33 envoys who met with him accepted the offer.

But Temer had the serious mission of calming a scandal threatening the reputation of the world’s biggest beef and poultry exporting nation.

Brazilian President Michel Temer (C), Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi (L) and Industry and External Commerce Minister Marco Pereira (R), holds an emergency meeting with meat-packing representatives. (EVARISTO SA/AFP)

The scare started Friday when police said a two-year probe had found major meat producers bribed health inspectors to certify tainted food as fit for consumption.

At least 30 people have been arrested, with police raiding more than a dozen processing plants and issuing 27 arrest warrants. A poultry-processing plant run by the multinational BRF group and two meat-processing plants operated by the local Peccin company were shut down, the Agriculture Ministry said.

General view of Brazilian food company BRF’s plant, under investigations for meat adulteration in Chapeco, Santa Catarina state, Brazil.
Brazilian meat is exported to more than 150 countries, with principal markets as far apart as Saudi Arabia, China, Singapore, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands and Italy. Sales in 2016 reached US$5.9 billion in poultry and US$4.3 billion in beef, according to Brazilian government data.

HIGH STAKES

In his address to the ambassadors, Temer acknowledged that the scandal had generated “major concern”. But he insisted that the bad meat and faked certificates occurred in only “a very few businesses” and did not represent a wider problem.

Calling Brazil’s inspection system “one of the most respected” in the world, Temer said: “I want to reiterate our confidence in the quality of our products.”

In 2016, 853,000 consignments of animal products were exported, Temer said, yet “just 184 of them were deemed by importers to be in violation”.

Earlier, Luis Eduardo Pacifici Rangel, secretary of agricultural protection, told reporters that there was “no risk for population, neither for exports.”

Meat processor BRF also went on the counter-offensive, taking aim at allegations that cardboard was mixed into chicken products.

“There is no cardboard of any kind in BRF products. There’s been a big misunderstanding in the (audio) recordings of the police,” the company said in a statement.

There have been no reports of people made sick as a result of the alleged practices. However, Brazil is worried the scandal will hurt attempts to negotiate a trade deal between South America’s Mercosur group with the European Union.

The EU ambassador to Brazil, Joao Cravinho, tweeted on Sunday that he wanted “complete, urgent clarifications from the agriculture ministry”.

“It really complicates negotiations,” admitted Brazilian under secretary general for economic and financial affairs at the foreign ministry, Carlos Marcio Cozendey. He urged that any response to the crisis be “proportionate”.

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