Tainted meat? | China temporarily suspends beef imports from Brazil

Brazil’s government moved to head off a crisis over allegations that meat exporters had bribed inspectors to approve tainted beef for sale and export by summoning ambassadors to reassure them they have nothing to worry about.

President Michel Temer and his agriculture minister met with top diplomats of the European Union, Sweden, Canada and other countries to say slaughterhouses were being properly audited and that Brazilian meat is safe to eat. Temer said he was headed out for a steak afterward and encouraged others to do the same. Separately, China was said to have temporarily suspended beef imports from Brazil.

“This is an urgent issue since it has repercussions for us internally and abroad,” Temer told reporters. “We spoke with embassies so that they could pass the word onto their governments in regards to any concern from the previous days. I invite everyone to go out to a Brazilian steakhouse now.”

Temer then dined with 19 ambassadors at a 119 reais (USD39) per person all-you-can-eat steakhouse, sitting between the Chinese and Angolan diplomats.

Federal authorities said that an investigation unveiled Friday showed about 40 companies, including JBS SA and BRF SA, had been involved in illicit activities such as bribing inspectors to approve the sale and export of spoiled meat and adding chemical substances to mask the poor quality. While the companies have denied the allegations, including through full-page ads in Brazil’s newspapers and spots on TV, their shares have tumbled at a time when both JBS and BRF are trying to access capital markets again.

The European Committee for Health and Food Safety is aware of the investigation and is seeking additional information, according to an emailed statement Sunday. The committee said it hasn’t found any irregularities with health certificates related to meat from Brazil since 2015. China and the U.S. have also requested explanations, O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

China temporarily suspended imports from Brazil, according to people who received notice from the country’s quarantine authority. Goods currently at sea or at port will not be able to clear customs, according to one of the people. The China Meat Association is collecting information from individual companies about their purchases from Brazil and any potential losses they may have, Zhao Anli, an official at the group’s import and export sub-
branch, said yesterday.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said after the meeting Sunday that the issues unearthed by the investigations are not generalized or widespread in the industry, and that authorities are working to ensure the highest quality hygiene and transparency.

“Brazil’s industry is robust and strong but it isn’t infallible,” he said. “We’re making sure that what’s being produced now is getting the proper inspection.”

The presidency said in a statement that of more than 4,000 plants in the country only 21 are being probed, and that 33 of a total 11,000 employees in the industry are under investigation.

Federal police served hundreds of court orders related to the investigation on Friday, including more than 30 detention warrants, in what local media said was the largest police operation in the country’s history. Roney Nogueira dos Santos, a BRF executive, was arrested at Sao Paulo’s international airport on Saturday after arriving from South Africa. BRF said in an emailed statement that he surrendered to the authorities and is available to give all clarifications needed.

China and Hong Kong, which together are the biggest export market for Brazilian meat, were the destination for about a third of the $5.5 billion of beef shipped from Latin America’s largest economy last year, according to the meat exporters group Abiec.

The European Union is the second-largest market, with 13 percent of the exports. China and Hong Kong are also the biggest Brazilian market for chicken, while the European Union ranks third, according to the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein Abpa. Fabiola Moura, Rachel Gamarski, Bloomberg

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