Scandal in meat business

Scandal in meat business

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An employee carries pieces of meat at a butchery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. — Reuters
An employee carries pieces of meat at a butchery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. — Reuters

SINCE Brazil is the world’s largest meat exporter, it would be only natural that its beef would be of high quality. But that may not be the case after Brazilian authorities uncovered what could be a huge scandal of rotten meat being sold on the domestic market and abroad.

The accusations are wide-ranging and include selling rotten meat, disguising rot by adding ascorbic acid to products, modifying expiration dates and repackaging expired products, mixing cardboard with chicken meat, using spoiled meat to make sausages, and money laundering to bribe government officials and health inspectors to get government certificates for their products. Rotten meat was mixed with healthy meat to be sold to consumers. These adulterated and rotten products were not only sold on shelves but also sold to the government to be served in public schools all over the country. In one, school kids were fed with meat so dangerous they had in them cancerous products.

Operation Weak Flesh was launched in the early hours of Friday in six Brazilian states after a two-year investigation. Brazilian police say 38 arrest warrants have been issued and 194 raids carried out. More than 1,000 officers took part in the operation. The agriculture minister has ordered the suspension of 33 government officials accused of involvement in the scheme. The probe uncovered approximately 40 cases of corruption where meatpackers bribed inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices. So far, three plants have been shut down.

Meatpackers had direct influence in the Agriculture Ministry so they could pick the inspectors who would visit their plants. Those inspectors would produce sanitary certificates regardless of the adulteration of the products. Employees of some meatpackers arranged bribes and favors for inspectors ranging from political donations and favorable bank loans to small bribes including meat products. In some cases, those inspectors would then allow employees of the meatpackers to enter government offices, access computers and issue their own export certificates, investigators said.

Prosecutors say a percentage of the bribe money was paid to two political parties from the governing coalition.

This is a staggering case of fraud, deception and corruption, repeatedly betraying an obligation by the meat packing industry to serve society. If this were any country other than Brazil, the scandal would probably have gone unnoticed. But this is Brazil whose meat industry is worth $12 billion in annual exports — $6.9 billion of poultry and $5.5 billion of beef last year. Two of its meat-packaging companies are world leaders in their field. One is the world’s largest beef producer, with a net revenue of $55 billion. The other is the world›s top poultry exporter.

Because of its high-grade quality, Brazilian meat is in 150 countries; some could be in this region. Police said there was evidence that meat packers falsified documentation for exports to Europe, China and most significantly for this part of the world, the Middle East.
It is recalled that in September last year the municipality in Makkah seized over 2,000 slaughtered sheep unfit for consumption. Much of it was stored inappropriately in residential buildings and an unlicensed kitchen.

Following that incident consumers said they were worried about ordering meat at restaurants and called for surveillance cameras to be installed in food stores.

In Saudi Arabia the municipality regularly makes inspection tours of food shops to ensure they are abiding by the rules of hygiene and cleanliness. The municipality is often helped by security patrols, the labor office, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the Civil Defense. The risk of eating contaminated meat is thus low.

The authorities should remain vigilant. Other countries may be eager to block Brazilian exports in this fiercely competitive protein market. They have to be checked as well. There is much money to be made out of the meat business. However, the global meat industry must put public health first.

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