Monday 27 January 2020

Brazil meat scandal deepens as China and EU halt some imports

Workers from Municipal Sanitary Surveillance confiscate hot dogs to be analysed at a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)
Workers from Municipal Sanitary Surveillance confiscate hot dogs to be analysed at a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)
President Michel Temer of Brazil hosts a dinner for diplomats at a traditional barbecue restaurant (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

A scandal over expired meats in Brazil has deepened, with the European Union and China deciding to halt some meat imports from Latin America's largest nation.

The developments represent a major blow to Brazil, one of the world's largest exporters of meat, which is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades.

The announcements come despite a flurry of meetings that Brazilian President Michel Temer held with ambassadors and numerous assurances that Brazilian meats in general were safe.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Union spokesman Enrico Brivio said the companies involved in the scandal would be temporarily barred.

The EU "will guarantee that any of the establishments involved in the fraud will be suspended", said Mr Brivio, who did not cite companies by name or say how long the ban will last.

A few hours later, agriculture minister Blairo Maggi said that China had suspended the unloading of Brazilian meats in Chinese ports.

Mr Maggi downplayed the move, saying Chinese authorities were in the process of asking for more information.

"There is no Chinese embargo," said Mr Maggi, speaking to reporters in Brasilia. "What we have are containers there that can't leave the port to local markets."

On Friday, police issued 38 arrest warrants involving the giant meatpackers JBS and BRF.

Both companies have denied wrongdoing.

To improve the appearance and smell of expired meats, the companies used chemicals and cheaper products such as water and manioc flour, according to investigators.

Three plants have been shut down.

Mr Temer called an emergency meeting on Sunday with ambassadors of several countries.

He assured them that national meats were safe and invited them to a Brazilian-style barbecue.

On Monday, Mr Temer again sought to calm nerves, saying that the Brazilian meat industry should not be judged by this one investigation.

"The agro business for us in Brazil is very important and it should not be marred by a small nucleus (of bad actors), a small thing," he said, speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo.

Sanitation officials were also out in force.

Marcia Rolim, head of Rio de Janeiro's municipal sanitary inspections, said routine investigations were being intensified in light of the investigation.

Investigators collected several carts of meats for analysis.

Some of the packages from at least one supermarket appeared to be rotten, with a greenish colour.

Browsing meats on Monday at a supermarket, Carla Simone Macedo said she had periodically seen products that looked to be repackaged.

Antonio Fernando, another customer, called the investigation "an exaggeration".

"We have very good meats," he said, adding it was good to see more inspectors.


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