BRASILIA – Brazil said on Thursday that its health and environmental controls are “rigorous” and that the investigation into some 20 meatpacking plants is focusing on “bureaucratic” matters that do not call into doubt the quality of its meat products.
“What is being investigated is neither the quality of the products nor their health condition, but rather the conduct of several public agents linked to auditing, to bureaucratic matters,” said Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi in a telephone conference with foreign correspondents.
He also reiterated that of the country’s 4,837 meat processing plants, just 21 are being investigated and “none for the quality of their products, but rather for bureaucratic questions involving a few (officials) who have already been removed from their posts.”
Maggi said that doubts about Brazil’s meat quality arose due to the way in which the Federal Police, which is responsible for the investigations, presented the case last Friday, when it reported on the busting of a criminal group that was adulterating meat products.
In addition to exposing assorted irregularities in meat processing, the Federal Police said that about 30 health officials were accepting bribes from companies in exchange for allowing spoiled or mislabled meat to be shipped to retail markets.
“The way in which it was discussed implied that the quality of the product was being investigated and that’s not true. Bureaucratic procedures are being investigated,” Maggi said.
“It was said that they were using prohibited meats in cold cuts and that’s not true. The possible use of cardboard packaging was confused with the possibility that the cardboard was mixed with meat and that’s not true either, along with the falsehood that they were using carcinogenic substances,” he said.
The Federal Police made the same assertion in an official statement three days after the scandal erupted.
“The deeds are linked directly with the divergent professional conduct practices by some officials and do not represent generalized poor functioning of the Brazilian health integrity system,” the police said.
Maggi reiterated that the government’s main concern is proving to the importers of Brazilian meat products that there are no quality problems, although he admitted that the matter does impact on the country’s credibility and is causing a significant loss of market share.
According to estimates, the scandal could cost Brazil, one of the world’s largest meat exporters, some 10 percent of its foreign market and annual losses amounting to about $1.5 billion.
He said that he will remain in contact with all countries that want to buy Brazilian meat to try and minimize the impact and demonstrate the “excellence” of the country’s products.