Pedro de Andrade Faria, ex global president of the world's largest exporter of poultry meat, BRF, was temporarily taken into custody on the morning of March 5 as part of the latest stage of Brazil’s Operation Weak Flesh. Helio Santos Junior, former vice-president of global operations who resigned last week, has also been arrested, along with eight others. One remains to be taken in for questioning.

The arrests were made as part the latest phase of Operation Weak Flesh – known as Operação Trapaça or Operation Deceit – which saw 270 federal police and 21 livestock inspectors swoop on BRF operations across five states

In addition to the arrests, numerous technical staff member have been questioned and countless documents have been seized. BRF stands accused of falsifying documents, larceny, acting against public health, and hampering government inspections.

The joint Federal Police and Ministry of Agriculture move came in response to ongoing concerns over testing laboratories issuing falsified results for Salmonella testing and inaccurate sanitary certificates.

These privately-owned testing laboratories may have been recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture, yet nevertheless made a conscious effort to hide the truth from state officials to prevent processing plants being barred from export markets or being placed in remedial measures, the Federal Police allege. The company is also thought to have used some laboratories that had lost government approval.

The problem, however, was not restricted to simply the testing laboratories, and it is alleged that not only were BRF technical and quality control staff aware of the problem, knowledge of the practice went as high as the company’s executives.

Industry response

The Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA) has announced that it is supporting the investigations taking place under Operação Trapaça, and punishment of those involved.

However, it notes that it is important not to recommit the errors of the past, adding that investigations are ongoing and any issues cannot be applied to the whole Brazilian poultry industry.

It also adds, while these problems may only be hitting the headlines now, investigations were already underway and issues resolved by the Ministry of Agriculture.