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Two major exporting companies, JBS and BRF, are being probed for possible payoffs to meat inspectors who are being accused of waiving food safety requirements.
Brazil on March 17 deployed 1,100 police officers to execute 309 court orders and conduct 194 searches across seven states. They made 27 preventive arrests, 11 temporary arrests and conducted 77 police interrogations.
When the dust cleared, 33 public employees were removed from their jobs and are awaiting prosecution.
Federal police called the sweep “Operation Weak Flesh.” Afterward, Brazilian President Michel Temer sought to calm international waters by pointing to the fact that just 21 of the country’s 4,837 meatpacking facilities were swept up in the probe.
Three BRF facilities, a poultry unit in Goias state and two meat processing plants in Santa Catarina and Parana, were closed by investigators.
Brazil does about $12 billion in annual meat exports, and Brazil’s President Temer met after the raids with diplomats from countries that purchase its meat products. China responded with a temporary ban on shipments from Brazil. Others will likely follow.
Evidence turned up in the police action shows there was bribery of both health officials and politicians. In exchange, the officials were overlooking unsanitary practices, and allowing both rotten and contaminated meat to be shipped.
JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, and BRF both had top officers picked up in the dragnet and both experienced double digit drops in their stock prices on Monday.
Brazilian meat imports in transit to China and other foreign ports could be turned back.
The government says the enforcement action shows Brazil has a rigorous and efficient inspection system. JBS and BRF were able to use bribes and selection of the personnel working the targeted plants. Officials who could not be bribed were reportedly transferred to other plants.
Meat from some facilities may have reached Wal-Mart Stores and the school lunch program in the United States.
A spokesman for the JBS SA associated JBS USA says the world’s biggest protein company has been “inappropriately” connected to the Brazil story and that the judicial orders make no allegation against JBS or its executive management. Headquartered in Greeley, CO, JBS USA has facilities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
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