Brazilian police raided the premises of global meatpacking companies JBS SA and BRF SA March 17 as part of a corruption probe. Authorities allege bribery of health officials that could impact the country’s $12 billion in annual meat exports.
The probe, dubbed “Operation Weak Flesh,” found evidence that the companies bribed inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices regarding the products. They allege that the companies processed rotten meat and shipped exports with traces of salmonella. Three BRF employees, two JBS employees and about 20 public officials were arrested in the raids, reported Reuters (March 17).
“We’ve never seen a scandal like this in the sector… It’s horrifying,” said Alex Silva, a livestock analyst with Scot Consultoria. “This stains the entire system that Brazil has spent years building.”
Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry temporarily closed three plants tied to the investigation. One was operated by BRF and two were run by a smaller rival company, Grupo Peccin. Authorities began removing their meat products from supermarkets.
Brazilian President Michel Temer did his best to stem the international fallout connected to the probe, meeting with EU and Chilean officials to discuss the matter March 19. The president noted that only a small percentage of the country’s 11,000 inspectors were involved in the probe, and that only three of the country’s 4,800 meatpacking facilities were connected to the probe, reported Miami Herald (March 19).
Temer said that a special task force would be created to investigate the matter. He said a list of countries where the meat was exported to would be released, and the name of the meatpackers responsible would be published. Currently, it is known that some of the expired meat was sent to the EU. The country exported about $6.9 billion worth of poultry and $5.5 billion worth of beef in 2016, as producers began to send fresh beef to the U.S. and ramped up shipments to China.