SÃO PAULO, Brazil – China, Brazil’s largest trading partner, and South Korea moved to suspend imports of meat from Brazil as the fallout continued to spread from a massive anticorruption investigation of the Brazilian meat industry. Additionally, the European Union is considering taking action against companies implicated in the probe.
On March 17, the Federal Police in Brazil raided the facilities of dozens of meatpackers, including JBS SA and BRF SA, as part of a two-year criminal investigation which found at least 40 cases of federal regulators accepting bribes in exchange for loosening regulations and helping food processors put adulterated food products in the marketplace. Law enforcement officers in Brazil served a total of 309 court orders, including 194 for search and seizures at the homes and businesses of individuals allegedly linked to the crimes.
Meanwhile, two of Brazil’s largest meat companies, JBS SA and BRF SA, moved to calm consumer and trade partners. Both companies bought full-page advertisements in local newspapers aimed at calming consumer and export partner fears.
JBS confirmed in a regulatory filing that police raided three of its facilities operated by JBS. But the operation did not include the company’s executives or its headquarters.
“The operation conducted today involves companies located in several regions of Brazil, and also involves three of JBS’ facilities, two in Paraná and one in Goiás,” the company said. “In the facility located in Lapa, in the state of Paraná, a judicial measure was issued against one of its veterinarians, a JBS employee, who performs auxiliary inspection services for the Ministry of Agriculture.”
BRF denied the company sold adulterated meat. “BRF never marketed rotten meat and was never accused of it,” the company noted. “The references to non-specific products, within the framework of the [Operation Weak Flesh], concern other companies, as can be proven in the material released by the Federal Police. BRF regrets that part of the press has mistakenly inserted its name in stories that deal with this issue, confusing consumers and society.”
Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry temporarily closed three plants cited in the investigation, one belonging to BRF. In a statement, BRF said, “Although the judge of the operation considered it unnecessary to close the unit, it was interdicted, in a preventive and temporary manner, by the Ministry of Agriculture. The measure must last until BRF can provide the information that certifies the safety and quality of the products produced, which should happen soon, since the company has confidence in its processes and standards, which are among the most rigorous in the industry.”
The facility, BRF de Mineiros, produces chicken and turkey meat for export and domestic markets, and accounts for less than 5 percent of the company’s total production, the company noted.
Salmonella St. Paul was detected in four containers of meat shipped to Italy from a BRF meat plant. BRF said EU regulations stipulate that products may not contain Salmonella Enteritidis or Salmonella Typhimurium. The company said the detection of Salmonella St. Paul “…would not justify a ban on entry into Italy.”
The company also refuted allegations that cardboard was found in the company’s products. “There was a great misunderstanding in the interpretation of the audio captured by the Federal Police,” the company explained.
Meanwhile, Roney Nogueira, a government relations executive for BRF, surrendered to authorities upon returning to Brazil from South Africa. “The BRF is monitoring the investigations and will provide full support to the authorities,” the company said.
BRF said the company launched an internal investigation upon learning of the investigation. The company pledged to act “…with the necessary rigor” upon finding any wrongdoing.
“BRF does not tolerate any deviation from its transparency manual and Brazilian legislation and the countries in which it operates,” the company said.