EU countries step up scrutiny of Brazilian meat

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Slovakian inspectors found Brazilian meat in Bratislava with Salmonella
Slovakian inspectors found Brazilian meat in Bratislava with Salmonella
Italy, Slovakia and the Netherlands have issued RASFF alerts in the past week around Salmonella in meat from Brazil.

Italy said it found Salmonella Bournemouth and Salmonella Saintpaul in frozen half turkey breasts.

Slovakia reported Salmonella Heidelberg in frozen salted chicken breasts from Brazil, via the Netherlands.

The pathogen was found in Seara-branded product made by Agrícola Jandelle S.A. in Brazil and tested at Frikas s.r.o. in Bratislava. Some had already been sent to restaurants around the country.  

The Netherlands did not mention the serotype but said Salmonella was found in frozen salted chicken breasts.

Increased inspection

A number of countries stepped up scrutiny of Brazilian meat imports in response to a police investigation which indicated existence of a bribe payment scheme involving business and government inspectors who helped issue health certificates for food unsuitable for consumption.

Police raided meat factories as part of Operation Carne Fraca last month.

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

BRF announced changes to its management team in part due to the impact the investigation has had on business.

A Response Management division was created to be led by BRF director, Simon Cheng and Pedro Faria, global CEO, will oversee the Business Management division.

Minister Blairo Maggi josé cruz
Minister Blairo Maggi. Picture: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

JBS said it was temporarily suspending production at 10 of its 36 plants in Brazil due to market supply and demand.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) audited 21 meatpacking plants and said it did not find anything that could put the health of consumers at risk.

A total 164 samples from the 21 plants found irregularities in 12 - such as water content above the maximum allowed in chicken and non-standard starch contents in sausage.

However, it did suspend three more meatpacking plants due to failures in manufacturing controls.

The Brazilian Association of Animal Proteins (ABPA) and the Brazilian Association of Meat Exporters (ABIEC) hit out at the “generalisations” made as part of the investigation.

“Our concern is with more than the six million Brazilian workers, who work in this chain of production of beef, pork and poultry. […the] animal protein industry, which annually ships 262 thousand containers to 160 countries, generating a revenue that represents 15% of the total Brazilian exports​,” said Francisco Sérgio Turra, president of ABPA.

“Any restrictions on Brazilian meat import, besides representing a setback of many years, will impact the economy and will result in job and income losses.”

International market response

China, Chile, Egypt and Hong Kong have re-opened markets to Brazilian meat after initially taking mitigation steps when the news came to light.

Brazil has put in place more stringent inspection requirements and increased sanctions for meatpackers that fail to comply with health regulations.

The provisional measure increases fines from R$ 12,000 to R$ 500,000 for offending firms.

Chile has maintained suspension of imports from the 21 meatpackers targeted by the police operation.

Agência Brasil
Picture: Agência Brasil

The Brazilian federal government has revoked the export licenses of these facilities.

The EU has temporarily suspended imports from four of the 21 meatpackers from which it received product and intensified sanitary controls for Brazilian exports of agricultural products.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union called for a full ban on all Brazilian meat being imported to Europe.

The UFU said it believed credibility of the Mercosur trade deal had been undermined by the revelations and the EU should withdraw from the discussions.

Mercosur impact?

Czesław Siekierski, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, asked how the revelations would impact trade negotiations with Mercosur countries in a parliamentary question.

“The investigation revealed that chemicals were used to improve the appearance and smell of expired meats and cheaper products were blended with meats,” ​he said.

“Reports that meat contaminated with Salmonella was exported to Europe and that ascorbic acid was used to mask the appearance of spoiled meat are of serious concern to European consumers.

“Given that this scandal raises food safety concerns, how will these revelations impact ongoing trade negotiations with Mercosur countries? Is it now time to review the negotiations and remove meat from the trade negotiation agenda?”

He also asked about the volume of product under suspicion and why European controls did not discover the issue.

Brian Crowley, of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, also asked about removing meat products from negotiations on the EU-Mercosur trade deal following the scandal.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said post-Brexit it is vital that trade deals which involve importing food products from other countries do not undermine high British standards.

Meurig Raymond, NFU president, said Britain has some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world.

“News that the world’s largest red meat exporter could be involved in exporting rotten meat shows how important it is to have a secure and safe source of food in the UK.

“Trade agreements with countries across the globe must be balanced – with the same conditions applying to food imports and exports.”

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) said none of the slaughter or processing facilities implicated in the scandal shipped meat to the US.

The agency has implemented additional pathogen testing of all shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat products from Brazil and increased examination of them at ports-of-entry across the country. 

Members of the Safe Food Coalition asked the USDA to reconsider its decision to continue allowing Brazilian meat and poultry products into the country.

The coalition said the ‘half-measures’ would expose American consumers to unnecessary risks and taxpayers to unnecessary costs.

Brazil updated WTO members on measures taken to ensure meat safety at a meeting of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures on 22 and 23 March.

The alleged misconduct only applied to a fraction of Brazil’s “solid and trustworthy” sanitary controls on animal products, the delegation told WTO members.

Brazil urged members not to resort to measures which would run counter to WTO disciplines.

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