RIO DE JANEIRO – The government of Michel Temer is trying to limit the impact of the adulterated meat scandal that has resulted in restrictions on Brazilian exports to China, Europe, South Korea and Chile and has damaged one of the country’s strongest economic sectors.
In its attempts to resolve the crisis, the Temer administration announced that on Monday it will offer a detailed explanation to Chinese authorities to get Beijing to reverse its decision to temporarily suspend meat imports from the South American nation.
The European Union is also studying the situation carefully and has left future imports from the companies tainted in the scandal up in the air, as have Chile and South Korea.
The scandal erupted last Friday when it was revealed that Brazilian authorities had arrested 33 health inspectors who – in exchange for bribes – had allowed spoiled meat to be sold by meatpacking plants linked to the BRF and JBS groups, two of the world’s largest exporters of such products.
According to investigators, the fraud included changing the expiration dates on packaging for already-expired meat, injecting water into chicken to alter its weight or using ascorbic acid to mask the odor of spoiled product.
The scandal, which initially appeared to be just another corruption case and directly tainted Temer’s governing PMDB party, has now become a public health problem with the government in the crosshairs.
“We have some 4,850 (meatpacking) plants in Brazil and just three were raided and 18 others are being investigated,” said Temer on Monday, after on Sunday inviting diplomatic representatives from about 20 meat-importing companies to dine at a local restaurant famous for its meat dishes.
“We have a very rigorous system of health inspection in Brazil. The number of Agriculture Ministry officials involved in the frauds is tiny,” the president said, noting that just 33 of the 11,000 health inspection officials are under suspicion.
Both the ABPA and Abiec meat products associations on Monday defended Brazilian meat and blamed the police for the damage to the sector’s image abroad.
The scandal has resulted in millions of dollars in losses for the sector and caused the value of JBS and BRF to fall on the securities markets by some $2 billion since Friday.
According to official figures, Brazil is the world’s major exporter of beef and chicken and the fourth largest exporter of pork.
Foreign sales of the three products last year amounted to 7.2 percent of Brazilian exports, or some $11.6 billion.