On March 17, the Brazilian Federal Police announced an operation to investigate allegations that meat companies, including BRF, JBS and Seara (JBS poultry subsidiary), bribed Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Farming inspectors to allow spoiled or adulterated meat to be sold and exported, reported Spanish newspaper El País.
The police operation is called Weak Flesh (Carne Fraca in Portuguese), referring to the quality of food under investigation and the weakness of federal inspectors tasked with inspecting such foods, reported the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo.
Through bribery of public officials, JBS and BRF producers allegedly sold products that failed to meet quality standards on international and domestic markets. Investigations suggest that public officials received bribes to facilitate the production of adulterated food, for which health certificates were issued without carrying out the inspection.
Bloomberg News reported that allegations at some of the facilities included:
- Masking spoiled meat smells with higher-than-allowed quantities of acid,
- Repackaging expired products,
- Exporting Salmonella-infected meat and
- Using pig heads and other sub-standard ingredients.
According to El Pais, allegations included, "repackaging of expired products, replacing meat with cheaper raw materials, such as soy and chicken, and even injection of potentially carcinogenic substances to disguise the poor state of the food, even those that were intended for school lunches."
Consequences of the food safety allegations
According to the Gazeta do Povo, some executives of JBS are already in prison and the superintendent of the Ministry of Agriculture in Parana is under investigation.
Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture Blairo Maggi declared that establishments under investigation by federal police would now have agricultural tax auditors present.
“Nothing will come out of these slaughterhouses without the express authorization of our auditors, who will work on a rotating basis,” Maggi said in a press release.
On March 20, shares of the companies involved plummeted, reported Bloomberg News. JBS dropped by approximately 10 percent on the Sao Paulo stock exchange, while BRF fell 12 percent. Minerva SA stock shed 13 percent of its value and Marfrig Global Foods SA lost 5.9 percent.
On the international market, China halted imports of Brazilian beef until the Brazilian government explains the situation, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Farming.
Other nations have stopped importing certain meat products from Brazil, reported Reuters. South Korea stopped sales of BRF chicken products.
Meanwhile, the European Union has expressed concern and asked Brasilia for more information, in addition to questioning the Brazilian food control system. One of the affected shipments was bound for the EU.
Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture response
Quoted in El Pais, the executive secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Eumar Novacki, downplayed the risks for the Brazilian population, because these were "isolated cases." However, he did express concern about the possible consequences to Brazilian exports, at a time when the country is going through an ongoing economic crisis.
The Ministry promised to unveil on its website which lots of food are likely to be affected.