Photo: A man inspects pieces of beef at a butchery after the Chilean government suspended all meat and poultry imports from Brazil, in Santiago, Chile March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza
The rapid response of Brazilian authorities to the scandal involving companies and meat inspectors has succeeded in containing what could have been a potentially more explosive situation to hit the country’s $12 billion meat export industry.
20 days after the scandal broke on March 17, beef industry group Abrafrigo said exports "should return to normal levels between April and May” and a majority of markets have re-opened to Brazilian imports.
Brazil’s meat exports dipped in March, with beef dropping 6 percent and chicken down 4 percent.
Special task force
Immediately following the first raids on March 17 by Brazilian federal police, the Ministry of Agriculture formed a special task force to inspect food processing plants.
On March 27 the ministry announced the special task force had collected 164 samples for testing from 21 food processing plants. The ministry found technical irregularities in 12 samples, such as water content above the maximum allowed in chicken and non-standard starch contents in sausage. However, the inspectors did not detect anything in the analysed samples that could be harmful to health.
“The task force will continue to make surprise inspection visits to meat processing facilities and will be accompanied by local media and photographers,” Nasser Al Khazraji, secretary of the Sao Paulo-based Islamic Center of Brazil, told Salaam Gateway.
The task force mobilised 250 experts, including staff inspectors and agricultural agents, who looked into manufacturing and raw material controls, questioned employees, and assessed hygiene conditions.
One company that produces animal feed was found to be using expired by-products and was shut down.
According to the ministry, the sample collection efforts went beyond the production sites of the audited establishments and extended to retail outlets, from which the ministry collected 174 samples of products manufactured by the companies across 22 states.
In the most recent update on April 6 the agriculture ministry announced it had found salmonella and staphylococci in eight of the 302 samples of meat-based products collected from the 21 meat processing plants being investigated.
On March 29, Brazil president Michel Temer signed a provisional measure to enforce more stringent requirements under the country’s 65-year-old Regulations for Industrial and Sanitary Inspection of Animal Products (RIISPOA).
The executive order increased punitive penalties to offending Brazilian meatpackers from 12,000 Brazilian reais ($3,840) to as much as 500,000 reais ($160,154) from 15,000 reais previously.
On March 30, an EU official called for independent controls over the Brazil meat industry. While no specific controller has been identified or named, Al Khazraji told Salaam Gateway, ”It has been agreed that the Brazilian government would work with an independent international firm that would visit the country’s [meat production] plants and assess the quality and procedures within these facilities.”
Assurances and charm offensive
Two weeks after the scandal broke, the ministry of agriculture announced that minister Blairo Maggi would visit key markets in April and May in an attempt to recover Brazil’s image as a meat-exporting country. The specific countries cited were China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
China is the biggest national consumer of Brazilian beef.
This week, the Brazil government news portal reported that President Temer and Chinese president Xi Jinping had “exchanged messages” that led to China re-opening its borders to Brazilian meat imports on March 25.
(Reporting by Heba Hashem)
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